Pastitsio is a layered pasta dish made of noodles and a savoury and aromatic meat sauce that is topped with a cheesy white sauce. It’s baked until bubbling and browned on top.
What is Pastitsio? My first experience tasting and making this Greek dish was when I lived in Vancouver. I ordered it at a Greek restaurant and later found a recipe in a cookbook which I tweaked and made into my own variation. It made a lot and since I was single in the city, I froze leftovers.
Pastitsio is a layered Greek pasta dish much like a lasagna. The first layer (pasta) is typically made with a tubular pasta like ziti, penne or bucatini. The second layer is an aromatic meat sauce that could include pork, lamb, beef or a combination. The top layer is a bechamel sauce enhanced by the Greek Kefalotyri cheese that is mixed in.
Bechamel sauce is a classic white sauce made with a roux and milk. It’s popular in French, Italian and Greek cuisines and may feature additional ingredients depending on the recipe. The Greek version has egg yolks whipped in for richness and colour.
Kefalotyri cheese is a Greek Cypriot cheese made from goat or sheep’s milk. It’s traditionally used in making another Greek dish called Saganaki. It’s a hard cheese offering a tangy, salty and sharp flavour making it well suited for grating.
Find this cheese at an Italian or European Store. If you end up having to buy a chunk of cheese you can use leftover Kefalotyri cheese grated onto your favourite pasta dish, in meatballs or with egg dishes.
Tips & Tricks
- If time is on your side make the meat sauce the day before allow the dish time to blend flavours.
- Use Pecorino or Romano cheese if you can’t find Kefalotyri cheese.
- Whenever I make a white sauce I warm my milk in the microwave for 1 minute on high.
- Don’t worry if all your noodles don’t face the same way when pouring into your casserole dish. It really doesn’t matter!
- My white sauce layer is thin as my family prefers less sauce in their Pastitsio!
Looking to create a Greek feast?! Check out these recipes!
Take Note: You will taste a flavour explosion in the meat sauce due to the cinnamon and cloves. It’s fantastic but may take you by surprise after the first bite!
If you made this recipe tag Wanda Baker on Instagram and hashtag it #bakersbeans or #wandabaker
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1.5 lbs ground burger
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 1/2 cup beef broth
- 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 Parmesan rind
- salt and pepper to taste
- 454 gr bag of penne pasta
- 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 tbsp butter
- 4 tbsp All-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk, warm
- 1/2 cup Kefolatyri cheese
- ground nutmeg
- salt and white pepper
- 2 egg yolks
- Heat oil in a dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook about 2-4 minutes until starting to soften. Add garlic and cook an additional minute stirring and watching to ensure it doesn't brown.
- Add beef and cook, breaking it up as you go. I cook the beef until any fat has evaporated and the beef has started to brown a little. Push some beef to the side of the pot making room to add tomato paste right to the bottom of the pot. Stir and cook for a minute while mixing into the beef. Season with salt and pepper.
- Deglaze and scrape up any bottom bits with the wine cooking for 1-2 minutes. Add beef broth and crushed tomatoes.
- Toss in bay leaves, sugar, cloves, cinnamon and Parmesan rind. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Let simmer 30 - 45 minutes to thicken mixture.
- Cook pasta in salted water according to instructions. Remove from water 2 minutes early. Drain and pour into a bowl. Toss with olive oil and feta cheese.
- Melt butter in large saucepan over low-medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook 1-2 minutes.
- Pour in half the warmed milk whisking continuously until sauce starts to thicken. Continue stirring while adding the remaining milk. Keep whisking to ensure no lumps until mixture is creamy and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Remove pot from heat and stir in salt, pepper, nutmeg and cheese. Quickly whisk in egg yolks to ensure they don't cook.
- Preheat oven to 375 F.
- Grease the casserole dish with olive oil or butter. Pour in the pasta spreading to ensure even on bottom of dish.
- Spread the meat sauce all over the pasta. Pour on the bechamel sauce ensuring it covers the entire surface. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until bubbling and top is lightly browned. You can turn the oven to broil for the last couple of minutes if the top is not browning. Be sure to watch it if you turn it to broil as it will brown rather fast.
- Remove from oven and let sit 10-15 minutes. Serve.