Nothing speaks family dinner better than Pastitsio! This is the food to serve whenever you want your loved ones to sit around the table and offer them a hearty and cozy dinner, a dinner that will warm their hearts and fill their bellies. Guys, there aren’t enough words to describe this recipe! The pasta at the bottom creates the perfect bed for the spiced meat sauce to rest upon, and the silky béchamel coats the whole casserole like a warm and fluffy blanket, resulting in a dish with layers of different flavors and textures making it impossible for anyone not to fall in love with it (can you tell how much I love it?)
Another good thing is that this recipe freezes very well. You can freeze it either unbaked,or bake it and freeze some individual slices. Either way, the best way to thaw it is leaving it overnight in the fridge. You can bake the thawed Pastitsio according to the recipe directions and you can warm the baked, individual slices in the microwaves. The only downside is that it needs some preparation (this is definitely not a 30-minute meal), but with some good scheduling you won’t have any problems and the end result will definitely reward you.
What type of pasta should I use for Pastitsio? Thick bucattini pasta, also known as Pastitsio pasta No 2 in Greece, is traditionally used for this recipe. It’s like long and thick spaghetti with a hole in the middle, and except for Pastitsio, you can also use them in recipes with thick sauces, like this whole chicken cacciatore stew. If you can’t find it, your next best option is penne pasta.
Cook the pasta al dente, meaning it should be fully cooked but not mushy. When you bite it, you should be able to feel some resistance. Flavor the pasta with some grated cheese. Cheese will also act as glue and it will bind the pasta together, holding each piece intact for prettier serving.
THE MEAT SAUCE
The basic ingredient for the meat sauce is beef. This sauce is much like this mom’s Bolognese sauce for pasta but it’s usually made with less tomato and not all the spices. Also, it should not have too much moisture, so you’ll have to simmer it slowly until almost all the liquids are evaporated. Something my mom does when she is in a hurry and the sauce is not fully ready yet, is to add a tablespoon or two of ground rusks, to absorb the extra liquids. Inevitably, you’ll have some moisture which, during baking, will drip down and give extra flavor (and some color) to the pasta.
THE BECHAMEL SAUCE
I like to make my béchamel with olive oil (a big sorry to my French friends) but you can also make it with butter. Make sure to cook the flour with the oil until it starts to smell nutty. This will give extra flavor to your sauce. Also, the Bechamel should be pourable, and not thick like plaster! A general rule for the best texture is to use 1 liter (litre) milk for every 100 grams of flour.
Lumpy Béchamel sauce? Never again!
There are many ways you could make a silky béchamel. Some people like to add the milk cold and all at once. What works for me is to use warm or room temperature milk (because the béchamel cooks faster this way) and to remove the pan from the heat before adding the milk, because if the béchamel cooks too fast it can create lumps. Then, I start adding the milk gradually, whisking constantly, until a smooth mixture is formed. I return to the heat and cook, whisking constantly, until it starts to bubble.
Note that you can’t make béchamel sauce for Pastitsio without adding some nutmeg! Also, some eggs are used for the best texture and some grated cheese for extra taste.
**For this recipe, it is best to measure the flour by weight, using a kitchen scale. If you don’t have a scale the right way to measure the flour with a cup according to Kingarthurflour.com is to use a spoon and fluff up the flour inside the container/bag it is stored, then sprinkle it into your dry-cup measure (the one that measures exactly a cup at the top) and scrape off the excess with a straight edge.
THE PASTITSIO RATIO
I guess everyone has his own preferences, but for me the ideal ratio for the best Pastitsio is for the pasta, the meat sauce, and the béchamel sauce to have approximately the same height. If something could be taller, then that would be the pasta.
The layers: you can divide the pasta into two layers, but I prefer to use almost all of them in one bottom layer, like you see in the photos.
- Sauté the minced meat in a wide pan, and let it brown very well before stirring.
- If you can’t find pasta for Pastitsio, use penne.
- Cook the pasta al dente. That doesn’t mean it should be undercooked, but firm to the tooth.
- Cook the flour with the oil until it starts to smell nutty. This gives flavor and eliminates the flour-y smell the béchamel can sometimes have.
Prep Time: 1 hr 40 mins // Cook Time: 50 mins // Total Time: 2 hrs 30 mins
The Pastitsio (or Pastichio) is a famous Greek pasta bake with a spiced meat sauce and a silky béchamel. It’s ideal as a delicious Sunday dinner and it also freezes very well.
Course: Dinner, Main Course // Cuisine: Greek, Mediterranean // Keyword: Bake, casserole, pasta, Pastitsio // Servings: 9Calories: 778 kcal
For the meat sauce:
- 2.4 pounds (1100 grams) minced beef
- 3 tablespoons olive oil (or vegetable oil) [Buy your Greek extra virgin olive oil here]
- 1 large onion, grated or finely chopped
- 1 carrot, grated
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup dry wine (red or rose)
- 1/4 cup thick tomato paste
- 2 cups pureed tomatoes (canned or fresh)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the pasta:
- 1 package 1 pound/450 grams pastitsio pasta No2, bucatini pasta, or penne (Buy your perfect pastitsio pasta here)
- 1 1/2 cups (120 grams) grated cheese (cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano, Greek Kefalotiri)
- 2 teaspoons fine salt (for the water for the pasta)
For the béchamel sauce:
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) olive oil (or butter) [Buy your Greek extra virgin olive oil here]
- Freshly ground nutmeg (about 1/3 of a nutmeg seed)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt
- 6 cups (1500 grams) milk, warm
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups (120 grams) grated cheese (cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano, Greek Kefalotiri)
- One deep casserole dish about 14inches x 10 inches 36cm x 25cm and 2.5 inches (6.5 cm) high or one round pan 14 inches (35cm) in diameter and 2.5 inches (6.5 cm)
- Make the meat sauce: Heat a deep pan over high heat and add the oil and the minced beef. Let it brown, without stirring, and when the meat is no longer red, stir with a wooden spatula and break any meat lumps. Cook until all the juices have evaporated, reduce heat to medium/high and add the onion the carrot, the bay leaves, the cinnamon stick, the allspice and the cloves. Stir for 5 minutes and add the wine. Wait for 1 minute for the alcohol to evaporate and add the tomato paste, the pureed tomatoes, the sugar, the salt and the pepper. When it starts to boil again, reduce heat to low and simmer until almost all of the liquids have evaporated (about 30 minutes). Remove and discard the bay leaves and the cinnamon stick.
- In the meantime, make the pasta: Cook the pasta in a pot with salted water, until al dente, according to the packaging directions.
- Drain the pasta well, mix in the grated cheese and transfer about two-thirds of the pasta to the casserole dish. Level with a spoon and cover with the meat sauce. Level the meat sauce with the back of a spoon and spread the rest of the pasta uniformly over the meat.
- Preheat your oven to 374°F (190°C)
- Make the béchamel sauce: Cook the flour with the oil in a large pot stirring continuously with a whisk until it starts to smell nutty. Remove from the heat and add the cinnamon, the nutmeg, and the salt. Whisk to combine and add the warm milk gradually, whisking constantly to prevent it from forming any lumps. At first it will thicken, but as you continue to add the milk it will loosen up. When all the milk is added, return to the stove and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens. When it starts to bubble, remove from the heat and let it sit on your counter for 5 minutes to cool a little. Add 1 cup of the grated cheese and the eggs and whisk quickly to combine.
- Pour the béchamel sauce over the pasta, level with a spatula and sprinkle the surface with the remaining grated cheese.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top is golden brown with dark spots all over the surface. Let it rest for 20-30 minutes before slicing for easier serving. Eat!
- The meat sauce can be cooked from the previous day and kept refrigerated.
- This is a large recipe, about 9-10 servings. If you want a smaller quantity, it may be better to divide the pastitsio into two smaller pans and freeze the one for later use.
- For the grated cheese I use a mix of the cheeses listed in the ingredients (but you can also use your favorite type).
- Instead of ground allspice and ground cloves you can use 5 allspice kernels and 5 whole cloves but you’ll have to fish them out of the meat sauce after it’s done.
Born and raised on the Greek island of Crete, Makos Efthimis (aka The Hungry Bites) learned to appreciate the value of the Mediterranean diet from a young age. He grew up watching his mother and grandmother everyday as they went back and forth with spatulas, spoons and knives on hand, tirelessly chopping vegetables, greens and fruits and cooking traditional Cretan foods. His blog includes a bit of everything — one pan recipes, healthy dishes and some gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian recipes — but mainly centers around Mediterranean cuisine. For dozens of other authentic Mediterranean recipes, visit The Hungry Bites here and follow along on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Bloglovin.
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