If you love lasagna then you will love the Greek version, Pastitsio. In a lot of ways I think Pastitsio is better than lasagna, the first one being kids go absolutely mad for it! Absolutely mad. Every time I serve this all the kids, mine and friends, always go back for seconds or thirds or fourths!
I’m not exactly sure what the appeal is but I guess this is the ultimate mix of lasagna and macaroni cheese. The sheets of pasta in lasagna can be tricky to negotiate when you are only 3 years old but little spoonfuls of macaroni are a cinch.
This feeds a lot of people. I bake it in a 20cm x 30cm baking dish and serve it with a big salad. The last few times I made it was for about 6 to 8 adults and 8 children and there was still leftovers. So I don’t tend to make this for a weeknight family dinner, only if we have a lot of people coming over. Partly because it is just too much food for just our family but mostly because I know how much butter goes in the bechamel so I consider this a ‘sometimes food’.
But you could easily make the recipe and divide between two smaller baking dishes and freeze one for another time if you don’t think you will get through a whole dish of Pastitsio. Or just half the recipe. If freezing I would layer the different elements in a foil tray, finishing with the final layer of bechamel, cover and freeze. Then when you are ready to make it, leave it to defrost overnight in the fridge, brush over the egg yolks, grate over the Parmesan and bake.
There are a few recipes for Pastitsio but I like this one, based on a recipe by Di Thomas from Lisa McCune’s book ‘Hopscotch And Honey Joys’. The fact this recipe was passed down from Di’s Great Grandmother convinced me this recipe was worth trying and it sure was. The only thing I do differently is use slightly more macaroni. Be sure to brush the egg yolks over the top before sprinkling the cheese and baking. It creates the most beautiful golden top.
This recipe comes with a huge stamp of approval. Definitely a crowd pleaser that won’t break the budget. Prepare it all the day before, then a little over an hour before dinner, brush over the egg yolks and grate over the cheese and bake.
(slightly adjusted from Lisa McCune’s book ‘Hopscotch And Honey Joys’)
500g packet of macaroni
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, finely grated
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
600g beef mince
1 tin of diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup of water
1/2 cup red wine
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon oregano
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups self-raising flour
5 cups milk
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
In a large pan, heat the olive oil and butter and add the onion. Saute on low heat for a few minutes then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Increase the heat and add the mince. Break up the mince with a wooden spoon and mix with the onion. Continue to break up any little lumps of mince to ensure it is all cooked then add remaining meat sauce ingredients. Stir well and bring to the boil. Then turn down the heat, pop a lid on and leave to simmer for at least 1 hour or until thickened. I tend to take the lid off for the last 1/2 hour but be sure to stir from time to time to avoid any sticking to the base of the pan. Then remove the bay leaves and set aside.
Cook the macaroni according to directions on the packet. Drain and set aside.
For the bechamel, melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute, being very careful to not let anything brown. At this point I take it off the heat and slowly pour in half the milk whilst whisking to avoid any lumps. Give it a good whisk and then add remaining milk. Pop back on the heat and stir with a wooden spoon until thick. Take off the heat and whisk in the eggs. Stir through the cheese and season to taste.
In a large bowl, mix half the macaroni with 1/4 of the bechamel (although I usually use about 1/3 of the bechamel). Spoon this into a 20cm x 30cm baking dish and smooth out into a layer. Cover the pasta with the meat sauce and top with remaining macaroni. Top with the rest of the bechamel so the pasta is covered completely.
Brush over the lightly beaten egg yolks and sprinkle over the Parmesan. Bake for 1 hour or until nicely golden brown on top. Serve with a big green salad.