Pastitsio is a relatively simple casserole that belies its weird name, made up of layers of pasta and saucy beef topped with a creamy white sauce. It’s a Greek dish, and I first tasted it at a Greek festival years ago, loved it, and searched out recipes to make it at home. It’s one of those fork-in-front-of-the-fridge recipes, meaning that the next day, Morgan and I might be caught with our heads in the fridge stealing a leftover bite. Because just a bite doesn’t count, right?
What makes this casserole special and different is the flavor. Savory Greek-style dishes often include cinnamon and/or nutmeg in the ingredients. I have a hard time with very much cinnamon or nutmeg in a savory dish, so I keep it to a minimum in my version, just enough to add the unique flavor combinations without overpowering the taste.
Here’s how I make mine. This recipe fits a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish–double it if you’re fixing for a crowd and want to fill a 9 x 11 pan. Traditionally, it’s made with ground lamb, but feel free to use ground beef, pork, goat, or even venison.
How to make Home-Style Pastitsio:
1 pound ground lamb (or other ground meat)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup dry red wine*
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
dash of ground cayenne (optional)
1 cup elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
generous dashes of pepper
1 cup milk
3/4 cup cream
dash of ground nutmeg
4 large eggs
1 cup grated cheese (Parmesan, mozzarella, Jack, or combination)
*The wine can be substituted with another 1/4 cup water.
In a large skillet, brown the ground meat with the onions; drain. Add the water, wine, and seasonings. Bring to a low boil then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the sauce reduces and is thick. Check the seasonings and add salt if necessary. (Don’t add too much salt to begin with because reducing the sauce will enhance the saltiness; reduce first then taste to check.)
While the sauce is reducing, cook and drain the macaroni. Set aside. In another sauce pan, make the white sauce. Melt the butter and stir in the flour and pepper to make a roux. Gradually stir in the milk and cream, simmer until thickened and bubbly. Turn off heat. Add a dash of nutmeg. Beat two of the eggs in a small bowl. Stir in about a cup of the white sauce to incorporate then transfer mixture into the sauce pan with the rest of the white sauce. Stir in half of the grated cheese.
Stir the other half of the grated cheese into the drained macaroni, with an extra dollop of milk or cream and the other two eggs.
Now you’re ready to put the casserole together! Grease the casserole dish and line the bottom of the dish with half of the macaroni mixture. Layer all of the meat sauce on top of the macaroni, then top with the other half of the macaroni mixture. Spread the white sauce over the top.
Bake at 350-degrees for 25-30 minutes.
This casserole has a long list of ingredients, which is what gives it its unique flavor appeal, but don’t be daunted. It’s very easy to make, and it’s delicious. And the next morning, you’ll be standing in front of the fridge with a fork sneaking another taste. I promise.