Pastitsio is made up from three separate elements, meat sauce, béchamel sauce and cooked pasta. It makes things easier, if you can, to make the meat sauce the day before assembling and cooking the completed dish.
Meat Sauce Ingredients
750gm beef mince
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tabs olive oil
3 tabs finely chopped parsley
300ml tomato juice – or 2 tabs tomato purée diluted in 300ml of water
150 ml red wine (optional)
1 bay leaf
1 small stick of cinnamon (about 3cm)
Salt and pepper
Making the Meat Sauce
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the chopped onion and cook until it has started to soften.
Add the mince and cook until it starts to brown, stirring it all the time so that the mince breaks up and doesn’t cook in lumps.
Add the tomato juice (or tomato purée and water), the wine if you are using it, the chopped parsley, bay leaf and cinnamon. Mix well.
Season with salt and pepper.
Turn the heat down and simmer for about 35 minutes. You want to end up with a fairly thick meat sauce.
Béchamel Sauce Ingredients
1.5 litre milk
1 bay leaf
A few whole black peppercorns
150gm butter (you will need a little extra butter when you assemble the pastitsio)
100gm plain flour
Salt and ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
150gm grated kefalotyri or parmesan. You will need an additional 100gm for topping off the finished pastitsio.
3 eggs, well beaten
Making the Béchamel Sauce
In a large pan, heat the milk, along with any spices or seasoning . If you have the time, it is good to do this a little ahead and heat the milk with a bay leaf and some whole peppercorns. Allow it to steep a little; the added fragrance is worth the effort.
In another pan, one that is big enough to take the warm milk, melt the butter. Lower the heat and now add the flour, stirring constantly. Over a low heat, allow the flour to bubble a bit but do not stop stirring – it burns very easily.
Take the butter/flour combination off the heat and gradually, one ladleful at a time, add the warm milk, incorporating each spoonful before adding the next.
Once that is done, return the pan of milk/butter/flour mixture to the heat, stirring constantly until it thickens to the consistency of thick custard.
Remove from the heat and add the ground cinnamon and ground pepper. Add the grated cheese and stir well. Put the pan to one side to cool. This is your béchamel sauce.
When it has cooled down really well, add the beaten eggs and mix well.
750 gm ‘ziti’ pasta – This is the long tubular pasta. It comes in different thicknesses, which one you go for is your choice I tend to use a medium sized one. A word of advice though, ’bucatini’ won’t do, as it is way too thin.
Cook the pasta in plenty of salted, boiling water until ‘al dente’ – it really mustn’t be over-cooked. Drain and set it to one side to cool – you need to be able to handle it ! It’s a good idea to toss it with a little olive oil when it’s cooling to stop it sticking.
Assembling the Pastitsio
Take a large, fairly deep, oven proof dish – a large roasting tin is usually the best thing. Rub round the inside with some butter.
Line the dish or roasting tin with the strands of pasta, they need to be in fairly straight lines. Once you have covered the bottom of the dish spread about a third of the béchamel sauce over.
Now add another layer of the pasta strands. All the béchamel layer needs to be covered.
The next layer needs to me the meat sauce. Spread this over that layer of pasta.
(A little tip is to sprinkle each layer with a little salt – it helps to make sure the pastitsio is well-seasoned).
Top off the mince layer with the rest of the pasta, until it is completely covered and top with the remaining béchamel.
Sprinkle with the grated cheese and bake in the oven at 180 degrees for about 45 minutes, until it has set and is fairly firm.
Allow to cool slightly before serving, so that the pieces of pastitsio hold their shape. Serve with any good green or tomato salad.