No need to start panicking, this might sound like it’s exotic and complicated but actually, it’s just a glorified version of Mac ‘n cheese. I promise. The only difference is that it’s infused with all the glorious flavours of Greece. Oregano, garlic, lemon and mint are all added to the mince (ground beef) mixture to ensure a end result packed full of deliciousness.
Pastitsio is a Greek or Middle Eastern dish which is generally made with Bucatini (a thick, tubular type of spaghetti) but Penne is often used when Bucatini is not available. In Cyprus, Pastitsio is called Macaronia tou Fournou which literally means “Macaroni baked in the oven” and is apparently quite a popular dish around Easter time. And according to my old faithful friend, Wikipedia, Pastitsio originates from Italy (no surprise there) and is a variation of the Italian Pasticcio which is baked pasta with ragù.
As you all know, it does not take a lot of convincing for me to fall deeply in love with a pasta dish and this one is no different. It’s quite refreshing to combine flavours from Greece with a dish I would normally load with Italian flavours and I was very happy that my entire family adored it. Obviously the herbs and spices are optional extra’s but it really makes all the difference. The mint is absolutely delicious with the ground beef and just adds a subtle sweetness. I used minced beef for my version but lamb, veal or pork are all suitable substitutions.
Serves 8-12 (perfect for big family gatherings)
- 1kg beef mince (ground beef)
- 2 large onions, finely chopped
- 3 large carrots, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tins chopped tomatoes
- 1 small tin tomato paste (2tbsn)
- 1 1/2 cups beef stock (+- 350ml)
- 1tsp dried mint
- 1tbsn dried oregano
- 1tsp ground nutmeg
- 1tsp ground cloves
- 1tsp ground cumin
- 2tsp sugar
- salt & pepper to taste
For the Béchamel/Mornay sauce (white sauce)
- 75g butter
- 40g flour
- 650ml milk, heated
- 1tsp ground nutmeg
- 1tsp paprika
- 1 cup mature cheddar, grated (optional)
- salt & black pepper to taste
- 1kg penne pasta, cooked
- oil for frying
- Start by making the meat sauce. In a large pot, fry the minced beef until browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- In the same pot, fry the onions, carrots, celery and garlic until soft and fragrant. Add the bay leaves. Add the minced beef back into the pot and add the tomatoes, tomato paste, beef stock, herbs and sugar. Allow to come to simmering point and turn the heat down.
- Place the lid on the pot and allow to simmer gently for 30 minutes.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°c and grease an oven proof dish (make sure it’s big enough).
- To make the bechamel, gently melt the butter in a saucepan ensuring it doesn’t change colour. Stir in the flour until a glossy paste is formed.
- Slowly pour in the warm milk. Only pour in a few tablespoons at a time and make sure that it’s well incorporated before adding again. When half of the milk has been incorporated, switch to a balloon whisk and add larger amount of the milk whilst whisking. The sauce should be thick and smooth. (This tip I saw on an old episode of Delia)
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the spices and cheese. Season to taste. At this point, also check the seasoning of the meat sauce and adjust.
- To assemble the Pastitsio, combine the cooked pasta with just over half of the Béchamel sauce.
- Carefully transfer half of the pasta to your prepared oven dish.
- Next, pour over all of the meat sauce and smooth out. Follow with the rest of the pasta and finally the remaining of the Béchamel sauce.
- Place the assembled Pastitsio into the pre-heated oven and allow to bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.
- Remove the Pastitsio from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving with a mixed salad and crusty bread.