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Top Rated Pastitsio Recipes
I fell in love with Pastitsio (essentially Greek lasagna) the first time I had it. A baked casserole of tube pasta with spiced lamb ragù and creamy, rich béchamel — a sort of divine Bolognese-mac 'n cheese hybrid. The thing is, between the two sauces, assembly, and 45-minute bake time, it's a pretty labor-intensive dish (especially for a weeknight). So, with apologies to any arbiters of authenticity, I present my slightly simpler, no-bake rendition. Click here to see 9 Divine Greek Recipes.
Pastitsio (Greek Lasagna)
This recipe for traditional Pastitsio (Greek Lasagna) was given to me by a Greek family who has had this recipe in their family recipe collection for a very long time.
Watch the video showing you how to make Pastitsio, then scroll to the bottom of this post and print out the recipe so you can make it at home.
Pastitsio is a favorite traditional Greek dinner recipe. It’s a Greek version of lasagna- characterized by a white and creamy bechamel sauce used in place of marinara and a hint of cinnamon. And I think you’ll find that this is one of the most delicious dinner recipes you’ve ever had!
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add macaroni and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente drain. Combine pasta, 1 beaten egg, 1/4 cup Parmesan and set aside.
To make the meat sauce: Drop the plum tomatoes in boiling water for about 45 seconds. Peel the skin off then seed and chop. Cook ground beef, onion and garlic together in a skillet until meat is brown and onion is tender. Drain off fat. Stir in fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken stock, vinegar, chili powder, allspice, cinnamon, and salt. Bring to boil reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes until thick. You don't want the sauce to be watery.
To make the white sauce: Melt margarine in a saucepan and stir in flour and pepper. Add the milk all at once. Cook and stir until smooth, thick and bubbly. In a bowl, combine about half of the mixture with 1 beaten egg. Return the egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining white sauce. Stir in 1/4 cup parmesan.
In a square glass baking dish, add 1/2 the pasta mixture. Next, add all of the meat sauce. Then, the remainder of the pasta and top with all of the white sauce. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon, if desired.
Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand about 5 minutes before serving. The white sauce will firm when cooked.
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 pounds lean ground beef
- ¾ cup water
- 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 pound uncooked macaroni
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- ½ cup butter, melted
- 4 eggs, well beaten
- ¾ cup half-and-half
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ground nutmeg to taste
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in onion and cook until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the ground beef, and cook until crumbly and no longer pink. Pour in the water and tomato paste. Season with salt, pepper, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, adjust salt to taste, then refrigerate until cold. Once cold, remove any congealed fat, and thoroughly mix with 2 beaten eggs, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add macaroni and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente drain, and rinse under cold water to cool. Mix the macaroni in 2 beaten eggs until well coated.
Evenly spread half of the macaroni mixture into a 11x14x2 inch baking pan, sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the grated parmesan cheese, and drizzle with 1/2 cup of melted butter. Spread the meat mixture overtop, then finish with the remaining macaroni. Sprinkle the macaroni with another 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, and drizzle with 1/2 cup of melted butter.
Whisk together 4 beaten eggs with the half-and-half, 1 cup of Parmesan cheese, flour, and salt whisk until well blended. Pour the cream mixture evenly over top of the pastitsio, and sprinkle with nutmeg.
Cover the pan with foil, and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove the foil, and bake until the top has turned golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, and allow to stand for 15 minutes before serving.
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- 1 pound penne, cooked and drained
- 2 pounds ground lamb
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
- 3 cups milk
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, (optional)
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta, and drain reserve. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, over medium heat, cook lamb, breaking apart pieces with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, 6 to 8 minutes. Add onions cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Transfer to a colander drain fat, and discard. Return lamb to pan add wine. Cook over medium heat until almost all liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Stir in tomato paste, cinnamon, and 2 cups water simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Make Parmesan cheese sauce while mixture is simmering: In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat whisk in flour until incorporated, about 30 seconds. In a slow steady stream, whisk in milk until there are no lumps.
Cook, whisking often, until mixture is thick and bubbly and coats the back of a wooden spoon, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in cayenne, if desired, and Parmesan.
Add pasta to lamb mixture transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour sauce over the top, smoothing with the back of a spoon until level. Bake until browned in spots, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven let cool 15 minutes before serving.
One of Greece’s favorite meals, pastitsio (παστίτσιο pastítsio), is an oven-baked dish made from pasta, minced meat, and béchamel sauce. It is a variation of the Italian dish, pasticcio di pasta, and of the Cypriot dish, makaronia tou fournou.
In Greece, the pasta used for this dish is called, “special pasta for pastitsio”. It’s a long, hollow and tubular pasta, around 2½ inches (6cm) in length, similar to macaroni. Longer types of macaroni are also used, almost the length of spaghetti, similar to Italian ziti or bucatini.
Layers of pasta and minced meat are drizzled with béchamel sauce and sprinkled with a grated Greek cheese called kefalotyri. The meat, according to different recipes, can be beef, pork, lamb or a mixture.
What is kefalotyri?
Kefalotyri or kefalotiri (κεφαλοτύρι) is a hard salty cheese made from unpasteurized goat’s or sheep’s milk, that’s produced in Greece and Cyprus. Depending on the amount of milk, its color may vary from yellow to white.
Sometimes a similar cheese, graviera or kefalograviera, also made from sheep’s and / or goat’s milk, is sold outside Greece and Cyprus as kefalotiri. Kefalotyri is strewn with holes like Gruyère.
Since its name comes from the word kephale which means “head”, it is shaped like a ball. This hard cheese has a strong flavor and a dry texture. It is traditionally served fried in strips or cubes, called saganaki.
It is also used as a grating cheese on pasta, salads and pizzas. The cheese is usually aged a year, so the flavor is quite strong, similar to Romano cheese.
Kefalotyri is to Greece what Parmesan is to Italy.
What is the origin of pastitsio?
The name of the pastitsio dish comes from the Italian word, pasticcio, which in turn is derived from the vulgar Latin word, pasticium which means “gratin” or “pie”.
Pasticcio is the traditional name for various preparations made from different ingredients, usually enclosed in a dough and then baked in the oven.
Pasticcio is mentioned in the de re coquinaria of Apicius, a figure of Roman high society. De re coquinaria, also called “the art of cooking”, is the name given to a compilation of Roman culinary recipes in ten books at the end of the 4th century.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth century recipe books, pasticcio appears in several varieties: based on meat, game, fish, shellfish, fruit.
Pasticcio has always been considered a prestigious meal, which is often featured in high profile dinners.
The pasticcio experienced over the following centuries other developments and free interpretations, such as the Greek pastitsio, while retaining its character as a prestigious dish prepared for elegant banquets.
Today, in various forms, pasticcio has remained in some regional Italian cuisines almost as a symbol of continuity with the great cuisine of the Renaissance.
The original Greek recipes for pastitsio describe the dish as stale bread covered in a spicy meat sauce. The dish is a Greek variation of Italian lasagna, and is common in Greek cuisine.
Greek pastitsio, as it is cooked today, was invented by French-trained chef Nikolaos Tselementes (1878 – 1958). He is also the author of Greece’s most popular cookbook, “Greek Cookery”, published in 1910.
Tselementes was a luminary in the world of cooking and a modernizer of traditional Greek cuisine, and thanks to him Greek housewives learned béchamel, piroski (pirojkis) and bouillabaisse. His name is now synonymous with cooking guides, and is also used as a joke for someone who knows how to cook very well.
A traditional pastitsio, according to Tselementes, should contain ground beef, onions, bucatini pasta, béchamel sauce, tomatoes, spices, and kefalotiri cheese.
Before him, pastitsio consisted of dough, liver, meat, eggs and cheese. It did not include béchamel sauce, and was wrapped in filo leaves. He completely changed the dish and made it into a kind of gratin.
Variants of pastitsio
The Egyptian version of pastitsio or pasticcio is called (مكارونا بيشاميل) macarona bechamel in Egyptian Arabic, meaning “béchamel macaroni”. The dish is usually composed of pasta, penne or macaroni, a minced meat sauce with tomato and onion, and a white sauce often enriched with Rumi cheese, a cow or buffalo milk cheese originally from Egypt. Eggs or cheese can also be cooked on top.
In Malta, timpana is made up of penne or macaroni, as well as layers of minced meat, bacon, egg white, grated cheese, all flavored with onions and garlic.
Traditional additions are also liver and broth, and in newer versions more vegetables are added, such as eggplant and zucchini. A layer of dough is placed on top, creating a crispy crust. Sometimes hard- or soft-boiled eggs and / or mutton brains are added.
In Cyprus, makaronia tou fournou is a staple at weddings and celebrations such as Easter, where it is served with spit-roasted meat.
There are two main differences between makaronia tou fournou and pastitsio…
- adding dried mint and tomato to the meat sauce
- the addition of halloumi, a traditional Cypriot cheese, that is sprinkled on top of the dish to make a gratin.
Furthermore, pork is usually preferred to beef, veal or lamb in the Cypriot version, although the dish is often made with a mixture of pork and beef or veal.
Egyptian Macarona Bechamel or Greek Pastitsio Recipe
Real, authentic Italian lasagna is made with a creamy bechamel sauce as is the Italian dish called “Pasticcio” (which translates to “mess” apparently!). The delicious red-sauce version of lasagna we have in America is great, but it’s not the same as what the rest of the world usually eats. Italy, however, isn’t the only place where a bechamel style lasagna reigns supreme as far as baked pasta dishes go. Egypt and Greece have their own take on the dish that’s heavy on the bechamel called “Macarona Bechamel” (literally bechamel macaroni) or “Pastitsio” (sometimes called pastichio or pastitso) respectively.
Depending on who your momma is, anyone whose had Egyptian Macarona Bechamel or Greek Pastitsio has tasted the main ingredients which are tubular pasta, meat, and bechamel sauce. The vast majority of versions also incorporate tomato sauce, but there are a few that skip it. Then there are variations that take off from there in terms of spices (some use cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, or thyme, etc.) and even the type of pasta used (some people make it with spaghetti layered into a baking dish or elbow macaroni). The best and most traditional method uses penne or another tubular medium sized pasta.
In my version, I’m channeling both my own mother and mother-in-law to come up with this semi-hybrid version. It’s a little lighter on the bechamel and meat than usual (my mom uses two pounds of meat for example and many Greek festivals have versions twice as thick), but adjusting those proportions to your liking is fairly easy in the directions (I’ve doubled the recipe in a slightly larger pan when going to a large potluck for example).
Most notably, I grew up eating different kinds of macarona bechamel or pastitsio, but it wasn’t until I tried my mother-in-law’s version that I thought to incorporate cinnamon into the recipe. It completely changes up the flavor in the best way adding a nuanced depth of sweet and savory flavor. Nonetheless, for the dogmatic traditionalists out there thinking that cinnamon is just too exciting, this recipe also works well without it.
This dish is best shared, but I wouldn’t blame you if you just ate all the leftovers yourself.
Makes one 9 x 13 or 12 x 10 pan with 12 servings at 360 calories each.
How to Make Macarona Bechamel or Greek Pastitsio
- Servings: 12
- Time: 1 hr 15 mins
- Difficulty: Hard
Is it macarona bechamel or pastitsio?
- 1 box (16 oz or 1 pound) of penne or other tubular pasta medium in size (about 1600 calories)
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of butter (800 calories)
- 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) of all purpose flour (200 calories)
- 4 cups of whole milk (600 calories)
- 1/4 to 1/2 of cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (100 calories)
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 pinch (less than 1/8 teaspoon) ground black pepper
- 1 large skillet
- 1 large sauce pot
- 1 large pot for boiling pasta
- One 9 x 13 or 10 x 12 baking dish
- Can opener
- Cup, tablespoon, and teaspoon measurements
- Chop half a large onion and peel two medium sized cloves of garlic.
- Place a large skillet over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in the pan.
- Saute the ground beef in the pan while breaking it up as it cooks.
- When the meat has taken on some color and is almost cooked, add in the chopped onion. Saute the meat and onions until the onions start to get a little translucuent.
- Crush and add in two crushed cloves of garlic to the meat and mix well as the meat continues to cook.
- When the meat is cooked through and the onions are almost translucent, add in 8 oz. of plain tomato sauce. Don’t use a heavily spices store-bought sauce if you can avoid it. The idea is to use a neutral tomato sauce (usually found in cans or cartons). Before adding the sauce, however, you may need to drain the liquid in the pan if it seems like the meat and onions have given off a lot of water. You don’t want to add the tomato sauce with all of that water. In order to drain the pan, usually it’s as easy as slightly tilting the pan over the sink to let the liquid drain and using a spatula to make sure none of the meat falls out of the pan.
- Add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon to the meat and simmer it in the tomato sauce on medium heat for about 5 minutes.
- After 5 minutes of simmering, remove the pan from the heat and set it aside. Loosely cover the meat with some aluminum foil if you like. If you’re working quickly, you don’t even need to cover it.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season the water with a couple of teaspoons of salt. When the water is boiling, add the pasta to the water and boil according to the al dente (that means the pasta is cooked, but is still a little firm when you bite down) directions on the box. Usually al dente penne takes about 10 – 12 minutes. If you feel up to it and want to save time, you can boil the pasta while cooking the meat.
- When the pasta is ready and al dente dump the pot of pasta and water into a colander to drain it. Run cold water over the pasta to stop the cooking process. This helps the pasta not to overcook, but also keeps it from sticking together and clumping when you want to use it later. Set the pasta aside and loosely cover it with plastic wrap or foil if you like. If you’re working quickly, you won’t need to cover it.
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Now for the sauce. This will require almost constant stirring using a whisk, so get ready! In a large sauce pot, melt one stick of butter on medium heat. Be careful not to let the butter brown or bubble too much.
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Pastitsio: The Sleeper Hit of Greek Easter
Between the goat roasting on the big spit, the lamb on the gas grill, and the chicken souvlaki rotating on skewers on the mini grill (a friend of mine has dubbed this “meat foosball”), you might think this would be enough food. But you would be very, very wrong. There are cheeses and sausages, spanakopita, olives, stuffed grape leaves (dolmades), baskets of pita, a bowl of salad big enough to baptize a pair of twins, crispy potatoes, and of course a large vat of tzatziki. But the real sleeper hit of Easter is the pastitsio. It’s basically northern Italian lasagna’s cousin, featuring layers of pasta, meat sauce, and the most delicious bechamel. Our Greek Easter spread isn’t complete without it, and it’s always a crowd-pleaser — even for the pickiest of eaters.
Like most traditional dishes, every man, woman, yiayia, and pappou has their own recipe and thoughts on pastitsio, and how it’s prepared is up to the cook to decide. It’s traditionally made with an extremely long pasta with a hole in the middle (similar to Italian bucatini, but much thicker), but I personally prefer it with ziti, as that’s how my mom has made it my whole life, and I find it makes a nice-looking dish once cooked. But feel free to use the classic noodles if you’re interested and are able to easily source them.
Greek Pastitsio: Baked Pasta With Meat and Béchamel
When teaching others to make this dish, some cooks tease that the word pastitsio (pa-STEE-tsee-oh) translates to "messy kitchen" in Greek. Although just a joke, there is a hint of truth to that statement. The Greek word pastitsio is derived from the Italian pasticcio, which loosely translates to a mess or a hodgepodge. You can think of it as the Greek version of lasagna.
Three essential components make up this dish—pasta, meat filling, and a creamy béchamel sauce—which are layered in a pan and baked to a golden brown. You use some egg whites for the pasta stage and reserve the yolks for the béchamel. Each prep step will require dirtying some pots and pans, but the end result is well worth the cleanup.
You'll likely need to find some of the ingredients at a specialty retailer or online, as this recipe calls for a specific type of Greek pasta shape used for this dish. If you happen to live near a great cheesemonger or a supermarket with an excellent cheese selection, you may be able to find the sharp, salty Kefalotri cheese otherwise, the closest and most widely available substitute would be Parmesan.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 white onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 2 pounds ground lamb
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 cups water
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 pinch ground cayenne pepper
- Unsalted butter, for baking dish
- 1 pound curly elbow macaroni
Make the sauce: In a large deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, and cook until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add lamb, salt, cinnamon, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook, breaking lamb into pieces, until it is no longer pink. Add wine, and cook until liquid is almost evaporated. Stir in tomato paste, bay leaves, and 2 cups water. Cover, and let simmer 30 minutes, skimming the fat occasionally. Remove from heat, and set aside, covered.
Make the bechamel: In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. When butter is bubbling, add flour and baking powder. Cook, stirring constantly with a wire whisk, for 1 minute. While whisking, slowly pour in milk. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Remove pan from heat, and stir in Parmesan, salt, black pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Set aside, covered, until ready to assemble.
To assemble: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch glass or other ovenproof baking dish set aside. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add pasta cook until very al dente, 2 to 3 minutes less than manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to a colander drain well. Stir noodles into meat mixture. Pour meat-and-pasta mixture into prepared pan. Spread bechamel over the mixture, and bake until top is set and golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm.