Pastitsio – The Greek answer to lasagna, layered in a tangy cinnamon red wine ragu and topped with a thick cheese sauce. Let the fun begin!
Pastitsio – Greek pasta bake
Pastitsio is not just another cooked pasta. It’s a step up from the macaroni toast – dare I say – and even the famous American pasta (regular readers know I swear!), the Greek version of the classic lasagna.
We love Greek bucatini-style pasta, which is cleanly sliced, the layers are clearly visible, and the eye-catching tubular shape.
We like to add cinnamon and cloves to a rich red wine, tomato, and paste to give it a different Greek character rather than “another pate.”
We (especially the Cheese Monsters) especially like the thick cheese Béchamel sauce. The Greeks did not overlook any of this. It’s all about wealth!
What you need for Pastitsio
Pastitsio is divided into 3 parts:
- Pasta with feta cheese;
- Greek meat paste – similar to bolognese sauce, but stronger with cinnamon and clove flavors that you can also find in Greek meat sauce; and
- Greek Béchamel Sauce – thicker spreads than you would normally see, like lasagna.
1. Feta-tossed pasta – Thick bucatini
Pastitsio pasta layers are unique in that they omit the feta cheese (delicious!) and add egg whites. The feta adds flavor, while the egg binds the pasta together so you can make nice cuts like the one pictured above.
1.1 INGREDIENTS FOR THE PASTITSIO PASTA LAYER
Here’s what you need to layer the pasta:
The traditional pasta used in Pastitsio is a thick bucatini-style pasta called “Pastitsio Pasta No. 2,” pictured below. It’s a tube of pasta – like very thick spaghetti with a hole in it. But it is thicker than Italian bucatini, like the one used in this zucchini pasta.
WHERE TO FIND GREEK BUCATINI-STYLE PASTITSIO PASTA NO. 2
You’ll find #2 Greek Pastitsio Pasta at European delis and grocery stores around Sydney. I found the Misko brand (pictured) in a fruit and vegetable shop in Top Ryde (Sydney) with a good selection of European produce.
CAN’T FIND PASTITSIO PASTA?
Honestly, don’t take it too seriously. If you want it to be smoother when cut, use ziti or penne instead. Otherwise, the free Italian bucatini or really any pasta sold in the pasta aisle of supermarkets today will do. It changes the look, not the taste!
2. Pastitsio meat sauce
- Making bolognese is no different than making your favorite spaghetti bolognese. It’s that easy! But there are two key differences:
cinnamon and cloves – as used in traditional Greek moussaka, the subtle flavor of this spice makes the paste Greek paste instead of regular paste; and
- Thick Bolognese – Sauces are thicker than bolognese. This was done on purpose so that the pasta layer would fit snugly on it rather than flow through it. This is how you get layers!
Requirements for the Bolognese layer:
There are no boat shakers in the above materials. In Greek cuisine, red onions are often preferred to brown/yellow onions.
As mentioned above, the additional spices that make Pastitsio Bolognese instead of Bolognese are cinnamon and cloves.
2.2 HOW TO MAKE PASTITSIO MEAT SAUCE
When it comes to making, pretend you’re making bolognese! However, unlike Bolognese, which has a long and slow cooking option, Pastitsio Bolognese must be boiled for an hour to reduce the sauce, so it is very thick.
This ensures that the fish meat stays on the pasta rather than mixing into the pasta layer, so you get layers and good quality. As a bonus, boiling it for a long time makes the beef super tender and really enhances the flavor of the fish.
3. Greek Béchamel Sauce
The Greek Béchamel sauce used in Pastitsio is different from the white sauce found in lasagna:
- A thicker layer – about twice the amount used in a typical lasagna. No complaints here, personally I’m a big fan of many bechamel cheeses!
- More layers – not as creamy as Béchamel usually is, but firm as a custard that you can cut. Combine it with a slightly higher flour-to-liquid ratio and use egg yolks (which makes the fish richer!)
3.1 WHAT GOES IN PASTITSIO BÉCHAMEL SAUCE
Ingredients you will need to make Pastitsio Béchamel Sauce:
- Butter, flour and milk – all the usual ingredients for making a simple béchamel / béchamel;
- Kefalotyri cheese – traditional Greek cheese made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. It tastes a bit like parmesan, but not salty or spicy. Find out more about Kefalottiri below. Sold at Woolworths and Coles in Australia or European/Greek delis. But don’t go out of your way to hunt.
Instant cheeses like Parmesan or Romano are incredibly helpful (he bent over when 10 million Greeks threw tomatoes at him);
- Nutmeg – including the classic Béchamel, But without it it’s not the end of the world. Freshly picked, if any; and
- Egg yolks – this makes Béchamel sauce better so that it retains its thick layer shape when you slice it.
- Egg white is used alone in pasta as the “glue” that holds the pasta together when you slice it. Full marks for the visual impact!
KEFALOTYRI GREEK CHEESE
This is a hard Greek cheese made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. It is used for sprinkling pastitsio to obtain a delicious golden crust and mixed in Bechamel sauce for flavor.
Kefalotyri Cheese It is a hard cheese with a delicious, salty and sharp taste like Parmesan. However, it is not as salty as Parmesan.
Believe it or not, today at Woolworths and Coles in Australia!
As shown below.
Best substitutes (respectively): Kefalograviera (a related Greek cheese), pecorino, Parmesan, Romano.
3.2 HOW TO MAKE PASTITSIO BÉCHAMEL SAUCE
This is how Pastitsio white sauce is made:
- Make the dough – melt the butter, then add the flour and cook for a minute. Slowly add the milk while mixing – this is how bechamel is made without mixing! The trick is to make a “paste” first, then add the milk where the paste will melt easily.
- Soy sauce cubes? Don’t worry!
Just mix it well and it will be smooth.
- Cook until thickened – Stir over medium heat until sauce thickens and no longer thickens. Measuring the Thickness: The sauce should cover the back of the spoon and should not be lost when you trace it with your finger;
- Seasonings – Add cheese and nutmeg. The cheese will thicken the sauce a little;
- Egg Yolk – Remove the fish from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Then win in the yolk.
Don’t forget to stir after adding the egg yolks, or they may get mixed into the sauce! ! To make
444! While hot, the sauce can be poured as pictured, but should be thick. Cover and keep warm until needed.
If it is cold, it will be too thick to cook. If that happens, keep lowering until you can do it again.
Pastitsio needs a big stew! A typical 9 x 13 inch pan won’t cut, just not deep enough. My baking sheet is 33 x 22 x 7 cm / 9 x 13 x 2.75 in.
Next steps and some tips I found through trial and error:
- Pasta Orientation – If you want to see the results when you cut the pasta, give the pasta (usually) in one direction because It is pictured in this article;
- Cold Bolognese – Cold Bolognese will add layers. Because it’s thicker and more emulsified, it sits on top of the pasta rather than seeping into it. It also helps clarify the process by providing a firmer bed where Pastitsio White Sauce can be poured;
- White Sauce – Pour and spread. If your whitefish is cold and too thick to pour, put it on low heat slowly until it is poured;
- Grate Kefalotyri (if you can’t find Parmesan) – then cook until golden brown; rest for 15 minutes with
- before cutting. The longer it sits, the better it holds its shape when cut.
If you want really clean slices, make them a day ahead – reheat and slice on the baking sheet!
What to serve with Pastitsio
I can’t think of anything better than a big greasy and juicy Greek salad! This salad has a flavor similar to the richness of Pastitsio.
But some salads that I think go very well with Pastitsio: