The ultimate recipe for baked macaroni with bechamel sauce. Yes, it’s the famous Greek Pastitsio, one of the nation’s favorite dish!
When it comes to comfort food for the Greeks, Pastitsio has a special place in their heart. It’s difficult to describe the reason why but I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t start drooling listening to the word “Pastitsio”.
Being able to cook a nice Pastitsio is a great asset for every Greek housewife. Or, at least it was in the previous generations where the families had a more patriarchal structure. They still do, but modern lifestyle has led the wives out of the kitchen and into an office trying to make a living to contribute to the family budget. So, no more time for Pastitsio?
No, there should always be time for it. In fact, I have had stories about reasons of divorces being “she couldn’t even make a nice Pastitsio!”. Just to see how important the beautiful smell of nutmeg in the bechamel is for a man. The same holds for Moussaka.
I admit, what I wrote can be considered against any feministic movement (which I strongly support!) but the truth remains:
So, here I share with you a winning recipe. By the way, it’s not only for Greek men but for everyone who enjoys a hearty meal.
There a few tricks about making a good Pastitsio. First, you need a deep tray. I used a medium one here that easily serves 5-6 people. Second, you need to make your own bechamel sauce. Please, don’t buy the ready-made white sauces. It’s not the same. Third, it’s important to let it cool down to room temperature before you cut it into portions. If you do it while hot, the pieces will fall apart.
And fourth, do it with love for the people you are about to share it with.
The pasta used for Pastitsio are quite special. They are thick macaroni with a large hole to absorb all the juices and flavors. You may be able to find them in supermarkets where they have the ethnic or world food. If not, as a desperate solution, you can use penne.
- 400 gr (14 oz) macaroni for Pastitsio (or penne).
- 800 gr (28 oz) ground veal (or beef).
- 3-4 ripe tomatoes.
- 300 ml (1.2 cups) passata.
- 1 large onion chopped.
- 2 garlic cloves.
- A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley.
- 1 teaspoon paprika.
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano.
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice.
- ½ cup of extra-virgin olive oil.
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg.
- 100 gr (3.5 oz) butter.
- 2 eggs.
- 5-6 tablespoons all-purpose flour.
- 1200 ml (5 cups) whole milk.
- 150 gr grated hard cheese (Manchego, mature Cheddar, Graviera etc).
- Salt and ground pepper.
- Add 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes until it softens.
- Add the meat and stir well. Add the paprika, oregano and allspice, season with salt and pepper and cook until it gets brown and releases its juices (~ 10 minutes).
- Add the fresh tomatoes, garlic and parsley in a blender and make a smooth paste.
- Add the fresh tomato paste and passata into the skillet, lower the heat to medium-low and let it cook for ~ 15 minutes until the sauce thickens. Give it a stir from time to time and check if it needs more seasoning. When ready, turn the heat off and let it rest.
- Prepare the bechamel sauce: add the butter in a saucepan and warm it up on low heat. When the butter has melted, add the flour and use a stainless steel whisker to combine them together. Stir aggressively to make a nice roux. While stirring, add the milk and the two whisked eggs. Keep stirring slowly until the sauce thickens. That may take ~ 10 minutes. Season with salt (just a bit) and pepper. When almost ready add half of the cheese and the nutmeg. It is important that the sauce never comes to boil. When the sauce is thick enough, turn the heat off and set aside.
- Boil the macaroni in plenty of salted water and remove them 2 minutes before the recommended boiling time written on the box.
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (360 F).
- Use a kitchen brush and cover with some olive oil the bottom and the sides of a medium but deep baking tray.
- Add a layer of the macaroni making sure they point more or less to the same direction. Add 2-3 tablespoons of the meat and 2-3 tablespoons of the the bechamel sauce and stir well so it blends with the bottom layer of the macaroni. This will help keeping everything together when serving. Add the rest of the meat into the tray and spread the rest of the cheese on top (keep some for the topping). Add another layer of the macaroni and finish with the rest of the bechamel sauce on top. Use a spatula if needed to make the surface even.
- Bake for ~ 45 minutes until the bechamel gets a nice golden brown colour.
- Take it from the oven and let it rest for ~ 1 hour. This is important in order to be able to cut it and serve the portions without breaking them. When the Pastitsio has rested, you can reheat it at 120-140 degrees Celsius (250-280 F) before serving.
- Bon appetit!