Pastitsio

IMG_0329Now I will admit, when I made pastitsio the other night, it was the first time I had even attempted it. It is a Greek dish – almost the Greek’s version of Italian lasagna. The bottom is a traditional pasta with tomato sauce (with some comfort spices like cinnamon) topped with a cream topping – either a custard or a cream sauce.

When I made it, one thought came to mind – why on earth hadn’t I made this before?! It is an amazing comfort dish that makes you feel all warm inside. To give you an indication as to how filling it is, the Greeks would traditionally eat pastitsio on Easter after a long period of fasting.

This version has lamb, but I have seen others with any type of meat. If you aren’t sure if you like lamb, this would be a great dish to test it out – it gives an earthy flavor that compliments the sauces perfectly!

This particular recipe is from my PBS station, The Everyday Food television series.

PASTITSIO
Serves 8

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
3 cups milk
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta and drain. 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.

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