For some reason, I dislike lasagna.
I don’t really know why, but I never have liked it. But I love this, and it’s pretty much the same thing. If you would like to try the real, proper Greek version of Pastitsio, there are plenty of recipes around. Mine is EASY – it’s layered baked pasta with bechamel, it’s an easy, delicious pasta dish.
Don’t tell me that it’s not completely authentic, because I know it’s not. But it’s easy. And when you’re a blogging mom with four children, that’s important.
The only problem with this pasta recipe is that it’s kind of the opposite of a one pot meal. In fact, it uses three pots, a big casserole or lasagna pan, a colander, and lots of spoons and whisks. Get your mad dishwashing skills ready after you make Pastistio, or else you’ll be doing dishes all night. Yes, and this is the easy version. (But it’s worth it!)
Step ONE – Make a meat sauce
Step one is very simple. Make your favourite thick, meaty pasta sauce. Do you like it filled with mushrooms and onions and garlic? Go to it. Around here, pasta sauce is pretty simple.The Primo was on sale, and that’s two pints of home-canned ground beef.
Don’t judge me for the canned pasta sauce. Remember – ALL of my tomatoes were hit by the Dreaded Blight.
I had huge plans for homemade tomato sauce, homemade canned tomato soup, and even some ketchup. Alas, it was not to be. Since we’re simply not doing without tomato sauce as long as I have an option, canned it is.
I use one tin of pasta sauce and 2 pints (or 2 pounds) ground beef. Another option would be to use less meat and some mild cooked beans or lentils, or thicken with a bit of bread crumbs. You want the sauce to be thick.
Heat it up just enough to combine. The tomato sauce doesn’t need to be hot. Now set it aside.
Step TWO – Make an Enriched White Sauce (Bechamel)
Step two involves making an “enriched white sauce”. Deliciousness, that’s what this is. I used ghee since we’re out of butter. After melting about 1/2 cup ghee, I mixed in flour until I couldn’t put in any more.
That’s how you make a roux for thick sauce, or at least that’s the way I was taught ever so many years ago. You could also mix equal amounts of flour and butter, but where’s the fun in that?
Cook the roux for a little bit to cook out the starchy taste. Stir often – it burns easily. Then start whisking in milk. This much roux uses 1 litre milk. Yes, it’s a lot. We’re making a casserole with 2 pounds meat, remember? Whisk often. It will sit there, looking all innocent, and then POW, you have milk-flavored biscuit instead of a nice, creamy sauce.
Here’s the secret to making it incredible – whisk in 3 eggs. All the better if they’re freshly gathered from the hen house.
STEP THREE – Make pasta
Step three is very simple. Set the sauce aside and cook pasta. I made a 900 gram bag. This makes a lot. I hope I don’t need to tell anyone how to boil pasta, but I will say that you want it slightly al dente (which means cooked but still firm). When the pasta is done, drain it.
STEP FOUR – Add stuff to hold the pasta together
Official next step:
Add 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup grated cheese and 2 eggs in the pot, whisk it up and add the pasta back in.
What I did:
Whisk 1 egg in a large bowl. Add a bit of the hot white sauce and whisk it in so that the egg heats up without cooking. Don’t use cheese because the children are allergic. Don’t add butter because, remember, we’re out. Add the egg to the pasta. Realize that it should have been 2 eggs, so repeat.
Today’s lesson: Don’t be afraid to play with your food. It’s the cook’s privilege.
Today’s second lesson: If you don’t add enough of the hot white sauce to the egg, it will cook when you put it in the pasta. This is not a dish that is improved by the addition of scrambled eggs. However, a small amount apparently can pass unnoticed.
STEP FIVE – Assemble your pastitsio
Assembly is EASY! Really, really. Stop thinking for a minute about all these pots you’re going to have to wash.
In the bottom of a big, big casserole dish (or a lasagna pan), add half the pasta. Pat it down nicely.
Cover that with ALL of the meat sauce. It’ll be thick. Resist the urge to stir.
Add the rest of the pasta. Pat it down, or not. I didn’t.
Pour on the enriched white sauce. Poke it down around the edges a bit. Don’t panic if it comes nearly to the edge of your casserole dish. This doesn’t seem to bubble over.
Step Six – Bake it!
Now pop it in the oven at 350-400F (depending on how much people are clamoring for food) and let the top get firm and brown. It won’t take too long, maybe half an hour.
Go set the table and get ready to eat.
Eat. And eat. And eat.
It really is delicious. I started with 2 pounds of macaroni, and all of my children are still young! I’m going to need bigger casserole dishes soon.
Try to ignore the dishes.