We took a little imaginary trip to the sunny Greek islands last night with this pasta casserole of meat sauce and bechamel that's somewhat equivalent to an Italian lasagne.
Loaded with pasta on the bottom and top with a flavorful meat sauce sandwiched between the two, the biggest difference with Pastitsio other than the subtle cinnamon flavor in the sauce is that the amount of cheese in the whole thing is quite minimal. What it means is the bechamel stands out in all its rich and creamy glory made even better with the addition of egg yolks as it forms a light and puffing golden cap on the casserole.
Pastitsio aka Greek Lasagne (from JBug’s Kitchen adapted from Saveur)
I used ground pork in the meat sauce, but feel free to use beef, veal or lamb in your version.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red pepper, minced
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1/2 pound ground pork
1-1/4 cups crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon crushed red peppers
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until shimmering. Add pepper and onion and sauté until vegetables are softened – about 5 minutes. Remove to bowl and add ground pork to the pan, crumbling it with a fork as it browns. Return vegetables to skillet and sprinkle with crushed red peppers, salt, pepper and cinnamon. Stir to incorporate, add bay leaf and stir in tomatoes and wine. Lower heat to simmer and cook until liquid is reduced and sauce is thick – about 15 minutes. Cool.
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided
2 eggs, yolks separated from whites
1/4 cup half and half
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces pasta, cooked to al dente and well drained
In a large bowl, whisk egg whites until frothy. Add half of the grated cheese and stir in cooked pasta. Set aside.
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook whisking constantly until mixture is slightly golden in color – about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in milk and cool until thickened, whisking often. Meanwhile in a small bowl whisk together egg yolks with half and half. Stir in remaining parmesan cheese. When béchamel sauce is thickened, remove from heat and whisk some into egg yolk mixture. Return yolk/béchamel mixture to the pot, whisking constantly. Season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg. Set aside to cool slightly.
To assemble dish, spray a deep casserole dish with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350. Place half of the pasta/egg white/cheese mixture into bottom of casserole. Spread all of the meat sauce on top and top with remaining pasta. Spread béchamel evenly on top of pasta. Place casserole dish onto a sheet pan to catch any drips and bake for 45 to 55 minutes until béchamel is golden brown and puffed and casserole is bubbling. Remove from oven, and cool for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 6 servings.
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