Pastitsio (pahs-TEET-see-o) is a well-known Greek meal. Some refer to it as “the Greek lasagna” and just like lasagna, a large pan of this delicious pasta based favorite goes a long way. But this dish can be tricky; creating a nice thick layer of béchamel sauce on the top of layers of noodles and spiced seasoned meat is an art and when it doesn’t go your way, it can be a disappointing disaster. Trust me, I’ve prepared many of them (disappointing disasters, that is.). Sometimes I feel like I am praying and wishing for the béchamel to levitate atop the layers… but that never seems to work for me.
My take on traditional Pastitsio takes the pressure off and as you can see, it’s so easy even a 5-year old can assemble this dish. Simply prepare the elements and bring together the savory bites in a muffin pan. The ingredients can be prepared a day or two in advance, stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator and brought out for quick assembly and baking later. The result is the same delicious and flavorful taste as a large square piece of pistachio from a pan, but without the praying and wishing for the levitating béchamel. ;)
Flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves the meat sauce is spiced and flavorful. No special or out of the ordinary ingredients required here, just basic items that are already stored in your cupboard or refrigerator or that can be picked up at your local supermarket.
Lucinda Scala Quinn, a favorite chef of mine whom I admire greatly, raised 3 boys in a New York City apartment. In her cookbook Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys she tells of her experiences and of the importance of raising her boys in the kitchen and teaching them how to cook. I do agree with LSQ and vow to raise my boys as such. My 5-year old and I made a dozen of these bites for our Easter feast last weekend and the pride and accomplishment he felt was unmistakable. Not only did he make sure everyone at the dinner table knew he made them, he made sure they also knew the next day when we enjoyed the leftovers.
1 pound lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon cloves
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
8 ounce can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ pound uncooked penne pasta
Béchamel sauce ingredients:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 eggs, beaten
3 ¼ cups milk, room temperature
Parmesan or Mizithra cheese, grated for topping.
Non-stick cooking spray.
Cook the pasta al dente according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
Brown the ground beef in a large saucepan. Add the chopped onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent. Add spices, parsley, tomato sauce, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. The sauce should be thick, almost like a chili consistency.
Prepare the béchamel sauce:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cornstarch, whisking constantly. Add milk and continue whisking until the sauce thickens. Temper the eggs by adding a little of the warm milk mixture to eggs and stir. Once the eggs are tempered add the mixture back into the saucepan and continue to whisk until well blended and thick. Remove from heat and set aside.
Set up your ingredients along side a muffin pan which has been sprayed generously with non-stick cooking spray.
Fill the cups halfway with pasta. Cover the pasta with 2 tablespoons of Béchamel sauce. Add 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture, another 2 tablespoons of Béchamel sauce and top with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan or Mizithra.
Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until the sides are bubbly and the tops are slightly brown and set. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Using a butter knife carefully lift the muffins from the muffin pan and place on a platter. Serve hot or at room temperature and enjoy a little taste of Greece (see what I did there..!) ;) Makes 24 savory muffins cups.
©2014 by Alexandra Salidas Roll, Figs & Feta, LLC.
Recipe and photos by Alexandra Salidas Roll of Figs & Feta, LLC. Please do not reprint this recipe without permission. If you would like to feature this recipe on your blog or site, please rewrite the method of preparation and link your post to this one as the original source. Thank you!