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Pastitsio | Oven-Baked Greek Macaroni


 

Just in time for Fall. Comfort food that surely brings out childhood memories; just like your Yaya (grandmother) used to make.

Pastítsio (pa-STEE-tsee-oh) is the Greek version of a Mediterranean lasagna-style pasta pie; composed of layers of tubular long macaroni, a meat-based sauce (makaronia me kimá) and finished off with an egg-based custard or Mornay sauce (a white sauce, Béchamel, with cheese).

Start by making your meat sauce to give it enough time to cool.  There’s no recipe here, pretty much anything goes, but you do need to let it simmer for at least an hour on the stove.

Pastitsio | Oven-Baked Greek Macaroni.

If you’re lucky to be surrounded with well stocked grocers you should be able to find Greek No.2 long macaroni. If not, use bucatini which is available pretty much everywhere or maccheroncelli. You can use any extra-thick spaghetti-like pasta with a hole running through the center; even a medium-sized tubular pasta like ziti.  Make sure to cook pasta until almost done, about 3/4 of suggested cooking time on package; otherwise you will end up with mushy pastítsio.

Pastitsio | Oven-Baked Greek Macaroni.

Pastitsio | Oven-Baked Greek Macaroni.

Whipped egg whites, finely grated hard-ripened cheese and butter are used to bind pasta together.

Pastitsio | Oven-Baked Greek Macaroni.

I like to bring all three components of this dish to room temperature before layering them on top of each other.  This step is optional, but it prevents sauces from bleeding into each other and sinking to the bottom … I actually place the pan in the refrigerator after layering my meat sauce and allow it to chill until firm.

Pastitsio | Oven-Baked Greek Macaroni.

The top and final layer is a custard-like Mornay sauce variation, basically a cheesy flour-based white sauce, Béchamel, with eggs added.  Use Kefalotyri cheese to stick to tradition, otherwise any of these cheeses will do: Grana Padano cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, Parmesan or Pecorino Romano.

Pastitsio | Oven-Baked Greek Macaroni.

I don’t sprinkle breadcrumbs and cheese on top simply because I don’t care for it that way, but go ahead and do so if you like.

Pastitsio | Oven-Baked Greek Macaroni.

Pastitsio | Oven-Baked Greek Macaroni.

 

PASTITSIO | OVEN-BAKED GREEK MACARONI

print this recipe

 

makes one 20”x13”x4”

for the meat sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
2-to-3 medium onions, diced
half a head garlic, minced
3 jalapeño chiles, sliced
2 1/2-to-3 1/4 lbs minced beef, preferably 10%
tomato paste and pepper paste mixed with a bit of water
2 1/2 cups diced tomatoes, or one 28-oz can san marzano, drained
salt and black pepper
allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ground red Aleppo pepper

for the pasta
1 1/2-to-2 lbs Greek No.2 long macaroni (can use maccheroncelli, bucatini or ziti)
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely grated Kefalotyri cheese (can use parmesan or pecorino)
2-to-3 egg whites, whipped to peaks

for the béchamel sauce
half-a gallon milk, 8 cups
6-to-8 oz butter
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
salt and white pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
2-to-3 egg yolks plus 2 whole eggs
1-to-2 cups finely grated Kefalotyri cheese (can use parmesan or pecorino)

Make meat sauce. Sauté onions in oil on medium heat until softened. Add garlic and jalapeño. Cook for a couple of more minutes until translucent. Add meat and stir-cook on medium-high heat until browned. Add tomato and pepper pastes, water, tomato and spices and mix to combine. Bring to a gentle boil then simmer on low 60-to-90 minutes; make sure to stir occasionally to prevent bottom from sticking to pan. Adjust seasoning as needed then set aside to cool to room temperature.

Prepare macaroni. Cook pasta in salted and oiled boiling water until 3/4 of suggested cooking time on pacakage. Drain and immediately toss is butter until thoroughly covered. Allow to cool slightly. Mix in cheese then gently fold in whipped egg whites. Press into a lightly buttered 20”x13”x4” casserole dish. Cool to room temperature.

Spread meat sauce evenly over pasta, place pan in the refrigerator and chill until firm.

Make cheesy white sauce. Place milk in a pot and bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Melt butter over low heat in a separate heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add flour all at once and whisk until lump free then cook for a few seconds. Slowly add warm milk in small batches as you whisk – be patient, it will look lumpy at first but will eventually break down to a smooth mixture. Add salt, white pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.

If you are inexperienced at making flour-based sauces, keep heat on low or medium-low and cook sauce, as you stir, until bubbly and thick. I tend to increase heat to medium-high at first and whisk vigorously and continuously to avoid bottom from sticking to pan, reduce heat to medium once mixture starts to thicken then cook on medium-low until sauce is done.

Break eggs with fork in a small bowl to lightly blend the yolks into the whites. Temper in the eggs by gradually adding some of the hot sauce. Slowly drizzle eggs into sauce as you whisk – you should have your saucepan on medium-low heat at this point. Add cheese in batches and mix until it melts. Let white sauce settle for a bit in pan before spreading evenly over meat sauce.

Bake in a preheated 350F oven for about an hour until top is lightly golden and inside bubbly. Allow to cool 10-to-15 minutes then cut into serving pieces.

 

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