Greek Lasagna (a.k.a. “More Please Mom”)

As much as I love to cook, a bit of the joy slips away when my ponytails look at a dish and start to groan like their arms are being slowly torn from their socket, or make faces that imply a sock that has been worn for several months is dangling precariously close to their cute little nostrils. Naturally, I’m more drawn to recipes that I know are going to be guaranteed hits with everyone who eats at my table. Call me crazy, but their little smiles and nods of approval make the mountain of dishes that I always leave behind in the kitchen somewhat more bearable.

So, when I stumbled upon a recipe for Pastitsio (pronounced pah-stee-tsee-oh) last weekend, I headed straight to the kitchen to start the meat sauce. A rich creamy sauce over a meat-pasta combo—how could I go wrong? I actually set out to make Aubergine Lasagna, after reading a recent post by Charles over at Five Euro Foods – but I didn’t buy enough eggplant on shopping day. Mind you, pastitsio is actually very similar to Charles’ dish—both recipes include delicious béchamel and meat sauces.

The morning after I made this dish, I proudly consulted with Miss Kerassia, my authority on all things Greek. Miss Kerassia is a wonderful home cook who moved to Toronto from Greece some time ago. She works at my daughter’s daycare, and I look forward to her warm, welcoming greeting every morning. She tells me that Pastichio (as it is also known) is the equivalent of lasagne for Greeks, and it is a favourite go-to meal for her and many of her friends.

Kerassia educated me on how this dish has been influenced by Italy and Turkey, two neighbouring countries to Greece. Pastitsio takes its name from the Italian pasticcio, which means baked savory pies with meat, fish, or pasta. She talked about how the unique spice combination in this dish (cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice) is in fact reflective of Turkish origins. While I only sprinkled a pinch of cinnamon on top of the béchamel sauce before baking, Kerassia likes to add a cinnamon stick to the meat sauce while it is cooking—so I’ve added that optional step to the recipe below. However I should point out that the version that I made did not include any allspice.

If you’re looking for a smile or two next time you spend time in the kitchen, then I highly recommend this recipe.

Pastitsio (Pah-stee-tsee-oh) [Baked Penne with Béchamel Sauce]

Adapted from Three Sisters Around the Greek Table

Meat Sauce

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb (500g) extra lean ground beef
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 28 oz tin crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1tsp thyme
  • 1 cup red wine
  • Pepper to taste
  • Cinnamon stick (optional)

Sauté onions with olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until soft (about 5 minutes). Add ground beef and cook until brown, adding salt to the beef as it cooks. Break up the beef as it cooks. Add the wine and cook until the wine is reduced by half. Add the tomato paste, crushed tomato sauce, oregano, thyme, cinnamon stick (if usin) and pepper. Bring sauce to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add some water. Remove cinnamon stick (if using) and remove from heat.

Bechamel Sauce

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 ¼ cup of milk
  • 2 tbsp grated romano cheese

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the flour and mix with a spoon until the flour and butter are combined. Gradually add milk and whisk (using magic whisk) continuously to avoid any lumps from forming. Simmer until sauce is thick and creamy, about 10 minutes. Remove sauce from heat before it reaches boiling point. Add the cheese and set aside until ready to use.

  • 5 cups penne pasta, dried
  • ¼ cup grated romano cheese (or pecorino/mizithra)
  • 2 tbsp grated romano cheese (or pecorino/mizithra)
  • 6 slivers of butter
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • Pinch nutmeg

Prepare meat sauce and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400°.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil and cook pasta until al dente (or as you like it).

Place the cooked penne in an 11” x 14” in baking dish (rectangular or oval) and sprinkle with the cheese.

Pour the meat sauce on top of the penne and mix together until the penne is evenly coated with sauce.

Prepare the béchamel sauce and spread evenly on top of the pasta with meat sauce.

Top the béchamel sauce with cheese and slivers of butter. Sprinkle on cinnamon and nutmeg. Place in a preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Let the dish sit for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

TIPS/NOTES

  • I actually used my own white sauce recipe for the Béchamel and added some grated romano cheese, as the original recipe suggested. (I add a cup or so of grated cheddar cheese to the sauce when making Mac & Cheese.) My version makes less than half of the original recipe, but it is enough to cover the entire pasta dish (I was trying to minimize the number of rich calories). You could easily double the sauce recipe when you feel like splurging (I intend to at least one time in the future).
  • I really recommend using the magic whisk when making a Bechamel or white sauce. It works wonders at getting out any lumps in the sauce. I bought mine at the kitchen shop in St. Lawrence Market.
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17 Comments on “Greek Lasagna (a.k.a. “More Please Mom”)”

  1. dragonlife says:

    A great comfort dish for Winter!
    But Penne with bechamel is a first!
    Good on you!
    Robert-Gilles

  2. Pamela Miles says:

    Nice write-up Barb and recipe. I am enjoying your blog!

  3. Magic whisk? My favourite little kitchen shop in the east end! Anything with béchamel must be delicious! Looks delightful Barb! To help cut calories, try making it with ground turkey we just got some from Rowe Farms that was all white meat and it was delicious! The béchamel could be a purée of roasted celery root and steamed cauliflower! i bet it would cut the calories in half! Although, I’m not sure you’d be able to it past the ponytails!

    • Great tips for cutting calories Eva! You know I was using ground turkey in everything for a while there….until Kevin started to request beef! I’ll definitely be making this again, so I’ll give one of your ideas a try.

  4. Charles says:

    Thanks for the shout-out Barb! You know, I think I actually had something similar to this before and loved it. I had no idea it was called a “pastitsio” though. That’s what I love about blogging – finding out things like this… it’s so much fun! Your dish looks fantastic, I can well imagine it was a real hit. I would have loved it, and my wife too – we’re real fans of pasta, saucey, cheesey stuff around here, especially in winter!

    Wonderful, delicious post – thanks for sharing it 🙂 By the way – did you mean to write “Baked Penne with Baked Penne with Béchamel Sauce” in the title above? I was wondering if maybe you used double the load of penne or something and my sense of humour escaped me…

    • I love that about blogging too Charles. For a while there I was making the same things over and over. Now I always have a long list of things that I want to make tucked away in the back of my mind …and I keep an eye out for the ingredients while I’m shopping.

      Thanks so much for pointing out the Baked Penne repetition. No, I wasn’t trying to be funny! I re-read the post a couple times over last night, but I guess that is the down-side when posting so late at night.Thanks again!

  5. Sissi says:

    Barb, your Pastitsio looks excellent. No wonder your family loves it. I had pastitsio a long time ago in a Greek restaurant and loved it (although it wasn’t in Greece). I must absolutely try the spice mixture. It sounds both original and delicious. It’s funny because I am using cinnamon in my chili con carne because a Mexican acquaintance told me to do so. Since then I add often a bit of cinnamon to ground beef dishes and it always gives great results. Is mizithra a Greek cheese?

    • Oh, cinnamon in chili con carne or other meat dishes — that is a great idea. Thanks Sissi! Yes, mizithra is a Greek cheese, but I don’t know anything about it (which is why I went with the romano). Let me ask Kerassia about it and get back to you!

      • Sissi says:

        Thank you, Barb, for the answer (don’t bother your friend! I will look up on internet!).
        Romano is a North American cheese, so I will stay with Italian pecorino…

  6. Kristy says:

    I was very inspired by Charles’ eggplant lasagna as well. YUM! This looks good too. I know that I’ve had this at a Greek restaurant before and I wasn’t a big fan. That said, these are all flavors that I enjoy and I’m a total pasta junkie. So I wonder if making it at home will make the difference for me. And I can see the kids enjoying this for sure…so that alone makes this a must try. 😉

    • I wonder if you found it a bit dry at the restaurant? I could see some versions of this just layering the pasta without a lot of sauce. If you do decide to make it, please let me know how you liked it. The bechamel sauce was definitely a splurge for me, as I don’t usually eat dishes this rich — but I was glad that I gave it a try. It is so rewarding when the kids enjoy a dish!

  7. Ann says:

    Wow – that looks amazing! I love this sort of dish! I have heard of the magic whisk, but never heard anything ABOUT it, if that make sense. Now that I have – I do believe I’ll be looking for one!

    I’m glad everyone liked the dish – who wouldn’t?!

    • Thanks Ann. Sometimes I think for sure the girls are going to like something and then they poke away at it. I was so pleased that they liked the Asian Slaw/Noodle dish that I found on your blog.

      The magic whisk is worth picking up. I think I first saw Nigella using one years ago…and then I saw one at the kitchen shop I love to go to, so I picked it up. It really works well for cheese sauce, and I do make mac and cheese quite often. If you do buy one, let me know what you think.

  8. I adore Greek food, and this looks like a wonderful version of pastitsio. I’ve bookmarked it and can’t wait to give it a try!


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