Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Pastitsio - Greek meat sauce and pasta bake

Is it me or has this been the crapiest Spring in Melbourne for years!  Where is the sunshine?  The only good thing is that I don't feel out of place cooking "winter" comfort food..  The ultimate in greek cuisine is pastitsio.  Very Italian sounding dish, because it is.  Probably from the time of the Venetian occupation..  One positive aspect  that came out of all these countries (Bulgaria, Venice, Turkey... the list goes on...) wanting to claim Ellada as their own is the fusion of recipes....

Every part of Greece has different influences...Up north it is very similar if not identical to Turkish cuisine because of the Greek refugees that came from Asia Minor...This is where my back ground is, hence my love of spice! The Ionian islands plus some of the Aegean islands have Venetian influences as noted not only in their cuisine but also their architecture...I'm not too familiar with the Balkan influence but having a friend whose family is from F.Y.R.O.M. our pites (pies are very similar).

Tonight, I cooked my stepdaughter's favourite.  Pastitsio...  As with all the recipes I post, don't stick to the exact measurements etc...Every thing is to your taste....

Pastitsio (Greek Pasta Bake)Serves 8 - 10
For the meat sauce
500g minced beef
1 large chopped onion
3 cloves chopped garlic 

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 heaped tbs tomato paste
1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp allspice

2 bay leaves
1 can whole diced tomatoes
½ bunch of chopped parsley
salt pepper
For the bechamel
1/2 cup butter

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 litre whole milk, warm
1 cup freshly grated Kefalotyri or parmesan
2 egg yolks 

salt pepper
For the pasta
400g pasta (tube macaroni or penne)
3 tablespoons good quality olive oil

2 egg whites (from yolks used in bechamel)

1/4 cup freshly grated Kefalotyri or parmesan
Preheat oven to 200°.
To make the meat sauce, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the mince beef and cook until crumbly and browned all the way through. Increase heat to high, pour in the red wine, and allow to simmer until the red wine has cooked out. Stir in the tomato paste and remaining spices. Add the can of tomatoes, reduce heat, and simmer the sauce for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally then add the parsley.
To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about one minute. Add the warm milk and continue to cook until the sauce is thick and coats the back of the spoon, about 5 - 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese and egg yolks. Season with salt, pepper to taste.
To make the pasta, cook the macaroni until just barely al dente. Drain and toss with olive oil. Fold in the egg whites and cheese until well mixed.
In a baking dish with tall sides, layer half of the pasta mixture in the bottom of the dish, covering the bottom completely. Spread the entire amount of meat sauce over the pasta layer. Spread remaining pasta over the meat sauce. Pour a thick layer of bechamel on top of the pasta. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and drizzle with olive oil.
Bake the pastitsio until the top is puffy and golden brown, about 45 minutes. DO NOT EAT IMMEDIATELY!!!!  Let is sit for at least 45 minutes.  Better yet make it a few hours earlier and reheat it in a low oven.  This will ensure that then béchamel sauce has set and when slicing will not fall apart!

·      I never follow a recipe…In this case, as we have my stepdaughters over tonight I added loads of veggies in the sauce.  Mushrooms, spinach, carrots.
·      I used cheddar cheese and feta instead of kefalotyri or parmesan..
   Enjoy xxxx Carol

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