Tuesday, December 1, 2009

PASTITSIO

This is a classic Greek casserole, made with macaroni, cheese, ground beef, and a beautiful savory custard-like sauce on top. It's comfort food at its best. Who doesn't like macaroni with ground beef? And cheese? And bechamel sauce! Actually, I can have the bechamel, also known as white sauce, by itself. But that wouldn't do, would it? In some regions of Greece this dish is cooked by adding cinnamon to the ground beef. Some people go as far as to add cloves and nutmeg, too. I'm afraid that my palette cannot tolerate the addition of these spices to pastitsio. Where I grew up, cinnamon and cloves were only used in sweets. I must admit however, that I have had Greek dishes with tomato sauce where a hint of cinnamon has been added, and they have tasted pretty good. So what to do? If you are feeling adventurous add a hint of cinnamon, but in my opinion, make sure it is only a hint. To this recipe, I would add -with caution- two dashes of ground cinnamon. Another option would be to add a small bay leaf to the ground beef and then remove it when the meat has finished cooking.

Ingredients:

1 lb tubular pasta
1 1/12 lb ground beef
2 medium onions finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic chopped
1 shredded carrot (optional)
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 lb canned tomatoes, chopped, their liquid reserved
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and...
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste1
/3 cup feta cheese
Bechamel sauce, recipe follows

Directions:

  • In a deep skillet heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil and saute the onions until they are soft. Add the garlic and saute for one minute. Add the ground beef and stir, add the shredded carrot if using, and add the canned tomatoes, including their liquid. Season with salt and pepper, add the sugar, oregano, and half of the parsley. Mix and let simmer for about 25 minutes until almost all the liquid has been absorbed and the ground beef is cooked. You can add some water if it's needed to finish cooking the ground beef, but make sure that when you finish cooking it, the mixture is not too runny. Turn off the heat, and add the rest of the parsley.

  • Meanwhile, in boiling salted water cook the pasta until slightly underdone, then drain and toss with two tablespoons olive oil to keep it from sticking. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  • Mix the pasta with the feta and Parmesan cheese. Oil a 12x9 inch pan and spread half the pasta on the bottom. Season it with salt and pepper and then layer the ground beef and its liquid on top of the pasta mixture. Layer the rest of the pasta, and spread it so that the surface is nice and even. Pour the bechamel sauce on top and distribute it evenly. Sprinkle the top with two tablespoons of Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes. It will be done when a golden crust forms over the bechamel. (If it's cooked for too long, the dish will taste dry). Let it cool for about ten minutes, cut it into squares and serve.




Bechamel sauce for pastitsio:

1/2 cup butter1/2 cup flour

2 cups warm milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

  • In a saucepan over low heat melt the butter and then add the flour. Using a wooden spoon or a whisk, stir until the mixture becomes bubbly. Remove from the heat.
  • With whisk in hand, add the warm milk slowly, in small quantities, whisking all the while. When all the milk is added, return to the heat. Keep whisking until the sauce starts to thicken.
  • Temper the eggs by adding to them about five or six tablespoons of the sauce, one at a time, and mixing after each addition. Add the egg mixture to the sauce and keep stirring constantly until the sauce is thickened and has a custard like consistency.
  • Fold in the ricotta cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


1 comment:

  1. Ana, I have spent about an hour now reading your blog which I find absolutely fascinating. I am genuinly impressed. However, I do not recall getting any of that Pastitsio????? Also, may make a request for a recipe for spanikopta on your blog.

    Monster

    ReplyDelete