Practice Makes Pastitsio

A comforting dish that seems unsophisticated yet requires serious yiayia (‘grandma’ in Greek) experience to get right.


Chef: Periklis Koskinas

Preparation & Cooking time: 150'

Serves: 8

This is a dish that basically comes from the Italian pasticcio, a term used to describe a variety of different dishes comprising a medley of ingredients, or a hodge-podge – in this case, one of pasta, minced meat and a creamy béchamel sauce. The classic pastitsio that has been prepared by Athenian housewives since the start of the 20th century is based on the recipe of the acclaimed Greek chef Nikos Tselementes (who is often said to have altered the course of modern Greek cooking) and the recipe below is quite similar to that one. Because it is quite a complex dish, it is considered a symbol of achievement in home cooking, usually best left to experienced grandmothers and mothers rather than younger generation kitchen novices.
There are dozens of different recipes for pastitsio but this one by chef Periklis Koskinas is especially balanced and very aromatic, as he flavors the white sauce with onion and bay, infuses the minced meat with Oriental spices, and also suggests a combination of beef and lamb for that extra kick.

INSTRUCTIONS

White sauce: In a saucepan over a medium heat, warm the milk with the onion, clove and bay leaf for 5-6 minutes. Remove from the heat, lift out the solids, and set aside.
In a separate saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Gradually add the flour and whisk vigorously for 2-3 minutes until blended into a smooth, thick, beige paste. Slowly pour in the warm milk and cook, stirring continuously for 6-8 minutes until you have a smooth, slightly thick cream. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and add the eggs (beaten) and cheese, stirring well.

Mince: Meanwhile in another saucepan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat, sauté the minced meat with the onion and garlic for about 4-5 minutes, until the meat has browned and separated. Add the tomato paste, bay leaves, salt, pepper and other seasonings, as well as just enough water to cover the ingredients. Cover the pan and simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until the mince develops into a thick, fragrant sauce.

Pasta: Boil the pasta in salted water for 2 minutes according to its recommended cooking time. Drain and set aside.

Pastitsio: Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Grease the baking dish and add the pasta in an even layer on the bottom. Next add the minced meat, smoothing it on top and then the white sauce. Bake for about 50-60 minutes until the top is bubbling and golden. Remove from oven and set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes. Cut into slabs and serve.

INGREDIENTS

For a 32×38 cm baking dish:

  • 500 gr (1 packet) bucatini pasta (usually No 9)

For the mince:

  • 500 gr minced beef brisket (or mixed with 250 gr of lamb for a tangier result)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/3 tsp cinnamon, powdered
  • 1/3 tsp allspice, powdered
  • 1/4 tsp clove, powdered
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • Salt, freshly-ground pepper to taste

For the white sauce:

  • 1 liter full-fat milk
  • 120 gr butter
  • 100 gr all-purpose flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 small onion, peeled whole
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 clove bud
  • 200 gr kefalotyri or some other hard yellow cheese, grated
  • Salt, freshly-ground pepper to taste


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