Pastitsio recipe is a classic Greek pasta dish made of ground beef flavored with spices and creamy bechamel sauce. It is hearty and delicious that it is tempting to go for seconds or thirds. If you love lasagna, you will enjoy this dish. My first time making Pastitsio some 30 years ago, I was hesitant to add cinnamon. To my knowledge, cinnamon is use only for sweets. That's how naive I was with cooking when I was younger. To my surprise, it was so tasty when added with beef.
Not aware I can use other types of pasta, I frequented the Greek store for flat pasta and it was expensive. If I knew then, it is easier and cheaper to use penne pasta.
When I was still in the Philippines, every time I was invited to a close friend's family gathering, lasagna was always one of the menu on the spread. Her cousin makes it and it was so damn good that many people were asking for the recipe. She refused to give the recipe and all she said, it was a family secret. So I never dared to ask her but I'm not sure if I asked my friend. I can't believe some people are so greedy when it comes to their recipes. My mom was always gracious to share her recipe with anyone.
Whenever they have a gathering, if I don't see the lasagna on the table I don't eat a lot to save room for her delicious, creamy lasagna.
Anyway, when I moved to the United States I hang out with many Greeks. We went to a popular Greek restaurant and they ordered family style. So I was able to try everything. The more I ate the Pastitsio, the more it reminded me of something. It finally crossed my mind, the sauce was similar to my friend's lasagna. I was elated, I can finally make my own version of lasagna.
One thing I did was, I got a postcard and send it to my friend. I asked her to show it to her cousin. I wrote “Now I know your lasagna secret ingredient (in big letters) BECHAMEL SAUCE.
Since then, I've been making this dish. If you love pasta, try this Pastitsio recipe. Don’t let the ingredients and the long instruction scare you. I am very detailed with my instructions to assist people who don’t normally cook. If you don’t have all the seasonings, I have made it with just oregano, ground pepper, cinnamon and salt and it came out delicious too.
Try this Greek Pastitsio Recipe or Greek Lasagna
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 5 garlic cloves minced
- 2 big tomatoes
- 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
- ½ can 7 ounces tomato sauce optional
- ½ teaspoon. oregano
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon basil
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 2-1/2 cups uncooked penne pasta
- ½ - 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup butter cubed
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
- 4 cups milk
- 2 large eggs beaten
- 1 cup grated Kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese
- Pinch of nutmeg
- In a saucepan over medium to low heat, melt butter.
- Add flour stirring constantly so that it does not turn lumpy.
- Slowly add milk and keep stirring.
- Add salt, ground pepper and nutmeg. Continue cooking.
- Adjust heat to medium high and after a few minutes the sauce will start to thicken. Once sauce is thick remove from heat.
- Slowly add beaten eggs while stirring constantly.
- Add Parmesan cheese stirring briskly.
- Set aside.
- Note: If you want a thicker layer of béchamel sauce, make 1 1/2 or double the recipe.
- Also, I don’t wait for sauce to cool down. Once meat mixture and pasta are ready, I put them all together.
- In a large pot over medium heat, add olive oil.
- Saute onion for 3 minutes.
- Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add tomatoes and cook until soften. Crush tomatoes with utensil.
- Add ground beef. (For a leaner beef get sirloin or 85% - 90% lean ground beef.) Stir and mix well until all lumps of meat are dissolved.
- Add oregano, bay leaves, basil, thyme, salt, cinnamon and garlic powder. Mix and cover. Continue cooking for 30 minutes.
- Remove some liquid from meat mixture. Turn off heat.
- Pasta – while beef is cooking, make the penne pasta.
- Add 5 cups of water in a big pot.
- Add salt and oil in water.
- Once water boils, add penne pasta. Keep heat on high the whole time.
- Follow the instructions on the package. Don’t overcook the pasta.
- Once done, use a strainer and drain water from pasta.
- Note: If beef mixture and pasta are both done, it doesn’t have to cool down. You can go ahead and prepare the pastitsio in the dish pan.
- Use a 13 x 9 dish pan or pyrex.
- Grease dish pan or pyrex with butter or olive oil.
- Toss-in penne pasta at the bottom of the pan.
- Add 2 tablespoon of soft unsalted butter. If pasta is still hot it will melt the butter. If penne pasta has cooled down already, melt butter in the microwave or in the stove. Mix it with the pasta.
- When pouring pasta in the dish it will be pointing in different directions. It is fine to leave it like that. If you watch my video, you will see I have arranged the pasta neatly. I am meticulous and it will bug me if I don’t. I might as well. It took sometime but I like how they looked once cooked and cut into pieces. Again, this is an optional step..
- Toss-in parmesan cheese.
- Add beef mixture and spread it evenly.
- The bechamel sauce is the top layer. Spread evenly..
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 60 minutes. For the first 40 minutes, cover the top of pyrex with foil and remove cover 20 minutes before done.
- Switch setting from bake to broil for 3 to 5 minutes to lightly brown the top. Do not burn the béchamel sauce. Oven settings vary so watch it.
- Once done. Let it cool down. Cut into pieces.
- In my video, I cut the recipe in half that serves 3 to 4 people and I used an 8.75 in x 5.25 in x 3 dish pan.
- Pastitsio is tastier after a day when pasta has been infused with all the delicious flavor.
- Follow the package directions on cooking pasta. Cook it “al dente” an Italian word for firm when you bite it. Over done pasta is not as good as firm.
- You can make the béchamel sauce in advance or if you have left over sauce, it can be stored in the freezer and thaw in room temperature.
- If béchamel sauce is too thick, add more milk and mix well.
- Use paprika or ½ cup of tomato sauce to give beef mixture some color.
- When pastitsio has cooled down, the top of the bechamel sauce will look dry. Brush it with melted butter if you like but optional.