The hallmark of this blog is celebrating the cooking of my two wonderful grandmothers. So I love making recipes that reflect elements of both of their cooking sensibilities. Classic Greek pastitsio does that in spades, even though neither of them were Greek! The spiced lamb sauce had so many elements of Lebanese cooking that my Nana Jeanie was known for since Greek and Lebanese cuisine share a lot of the same flavors. The pasta and parmesan is so incredibly emblematic of my Italian Nana Lulu. Since it is coming up to my 5 year blogging anniversary, I thought this dish would be the perfect tribute to the women who inspired it. More importantly, pastitsio is simply divine to eat.
Oh my goodness, this pastitsio was pure, incredible comfort food for the upcoming cold weather. The layers of meat sauce, pasta, bechamel and parmesan was reminiscent of a spiced, Greek version of lasagna and I loved every single bite. I think my two grandmothers would be proud! Hope you all enjoy this dish too, it’s perfect for a big Sunday meal to feed a crowd. xoxo
Pastitsio is such an incredible comfort food dish with a meaty spiced lamb sauce tossed with tender pasta, then baked with bechamel and cheese on top!
- 1 dash olive oil
- 1 whole onion diced small
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 cup fresh mint roughly chopped, plus additional for garnish
- 2 pounds ground lamb
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch black pepper
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 2 whole bay leaves
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups milk
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese divided
- 1 pound rigatoni pasta penne or ziti would also work
First, make the meat sauce. Get out a large dutch oven and heat the olive oil in it over medium high heat. Add in the onion, garlic and mint and let them get fragrant for a couple of minutes. Then put in the ground lamb and brown it as you completely break it up. While it cooks through and browns, season it with the salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, cumin and cayenne. Once the meat is brown, stir in the tomato paste and let it cook through for a minute. Then add in the wine and let it absorb into the meat for about 5 minutes. Finally, add in the diced tomatoes and bay leaves. Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer to cook for 45 minutes.
While the meat sauce cooks, make the bechamel sauce. Also get on a pot of water to boil for the pasta. For the bechamel, heat the butter in a medium sauce pan and let start to really melt. Whisk in the flour and keep whisking until you have a golden, thick paste. Keep whisking while you slowly pour in the milk. Add in the nutmeg and 1/4 cup of the parmesan and stir them in. Let the sauce gently bubble and thicken for 10-15 minutes, whisking it often to keep it smooth. When it is done, set it aside. Then cook the pasta. Salt the boiling water generously, then let the pasta cook in it until tender for about 8 minutes. Drain it and set it aside. Pre-heat the oven to 350.
When the sauce is done, remove the bay leaves and stir the cooked pasta into it thoroughly. Get out a 9 x 13 lasagna pan and transfer the pasta with meat sauce into it in an even layer. Spread the bechamel in an even layer over the pasta. Then sprinkle the remaining half cup of parmesan on the very top. Bake the pastitsio for about 40-45 minutes, until bubbly. Take it out and sprinkle additional chopped mint on top and serve immediately! Makes great leftovers too.