When my husband and I lived in Washington D.C., specifically in DuPont Circle, there was this amazing little restaurant called Zorba’s. It served traditional Greek fare to unsuspecting tourists and D.C. residents alike. And it was heavenly. They made a moussaka like none I’ve ever had before or since. Because of my experience with Zorba’s, I’ve been hesitant to cook Greek food. (and it’s been…10 years…yikes!) The ‘funny’ thing about that is that the 3 of us LOVE Greek food! I went to Greece with one of my best friends and pretty much ate my way through it, but I STILL won’t cook it. Until the other day. When I attempted to make Pastitsio. It’s a semi-layered dish, a lot like lasagna, and I figured, you know what, I can’t mess that up THAT bad! Plus, I thought it would be a great dish for Zara to help me with because while there are a couple of steps, they don’t happen all at once, so it’ll be relatively easy for me to keep an eye on her (although taking step by step pictures proved pretty impossible).
I’m proud of myself with this dish. Not only was it freaking fantastic, BUT Zara did an awesome job as a helper, she ate it AND she asked for it the next day for lunch. Epic win.
So here it is, my version of Pastitsio. I’m going to be brutally honest here and tell you that this is my recipe. It is NOT traditional Pastitsio. Why? Frankly, I wanted to include vegetables. And I felt like I wanted to use someone else’s recipe as my base, but I couldn’t decide between Martha Stewart and Ina Garten (I know, neither Greek, possibly a little bad…) so I made up my own recipe, trying to use a little more Greek herbs than called for in those recipes to bring back memories of smells I had whilst in Greece. The result. Totally worth playing around with the texture (adding vegetables) and taste/smell (adding different herbs/spices).
Don’t be put off by Greek food any longer! This was a LOT easier than anticipated!
What you’ll need;
For Meat Sauce/Pasta
8 baby carrots, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large white onion, diced
1 medium japanese eggplant
3 tbsp oilve oil
1 box rigatoni (or ziti, or really any shaped pasta, I like tubes so the sauce gets stuck inside)
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup of red wine
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tea thyme
1 tea crushed red chili pepper flakes
1/4 tea fenugreek
1/4 tea paprika
1 can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces)
1 tea freshly ground salt
1 tea freshly ground pepper
For Bechamel Sauce
1 1/2 cups milk (I used 2%)
1 cup half & half
4 tblsp butter
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tea nutmeg
1/4 tea salt
1/4 tea pepper
1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese (or Kasseri if you can get your hands on it)
2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup yougurt (greek style or plain)
First, boil some water to cook your pasta.
While pasta water boils, chop up all your vegetables. Why did I use the vegetables I did? It’s what I had in my fridge BUT they are also what I remembered eating in Greek cuisine (not japanese eggplant obviously, regular eggplant). I happened to have a japanese eggplant, and since these are SO tender and SO fragrant as opposed to regular eggplant, I thought it would give it a wonderful taste and aroma. I was right. Try it! When you cut into a japanese eggplant it smells almost floral. It’s wonderful.
Next, add 1 tbsp olive oil to a heated saute pan and have your child dump in all of the vegetables. Saute for 5 minutes or until all the veggies start to soften. Push the veggies to the sides of the pan, add 1/2 tbsp olive oil to the center of your pan and add the meat. Brown. This should take 8-10 minutes. Your pasta water should be boiling. Add pasta and give it a stir. You are going to want to cook your pasta Al Dente as you are going to be cooking it in the oven and overcooked pasta just tastes disgusting. Al Dente people, Al Dente.
When your beef is no longer pink, carefully drain as much of the fatty liquid off as you can and return to heat (the meat, not the fat), adding the red wine. Cook for 3 minutes. Now add your spices with the exception of the nutmeg. Cook for 5 minutes. Add your tomatoes, salt and pepper, stir. Put on your back burner and let simmer for 40 minutes. Your pasta should be done! Drain it in the sink and pour the remaining olive oil over it and give it a stir so the pasta doesn’t stick.
Preheat your oven to 350 F
Now let’s make the bechamel sauce. Heat up your milk and half and half. You want this to be on medium-low heat. You are trying to heat through, but not scald. It should start to barely simmer and then it’s done!
While you are doing this, get out a saucepan (I know, 3 pans!! Worth it!) Melt the butter. Now add the flour, whisking constantly. Slowly add your heated milk and half & half mixture until it is incorporated. Whisk constantly until the mixture starts to thicken and is smooth – about 8 minutes. Now have your child add the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Next up! The cheese. Dump it all right in and have your child keep whisking until it’s melted. Stir in 1 cup of the meat sauce and remove from heat. Let the sauce thicken for 10 minutes.
While your bechamel is thickening, add your cooked pasta to your simmering meat sauce. Stir until all pasta is covered. Cover and continue simmering on low heat.
Beat your two eggs. Once your 10 minute thickening time is up, add your beaten eggs and your yogurt. Stir to incorporate.
Pour pasta/meat sauce mixture in a large rectangle baking dish. Next, spread the bechamel sauce evenly over the top. I let Z do this with a large wooden spoon. I like cheese, so I add some grated mozzerella to the top for an added bonus (I know, it’s not very Greek, but it’s what I had).
Bake for 50 minutes. When done let it sit for 10 minutes then serve immediately! It’s AMAZING! We had it for lunch and dinner the next day.
We were a little greedy and I couldn’t snap a picture before we dug in…