Maria's P a s t i t s i o...Marvelous!

 The word pastitsio sounds Italian...and it is. It literally means "to make a mess of things".  Now how it came about to be used in this typically festive Greek dish I couldn't tell you. All I know is that I love it and I will eat it only when Maria (my wife) makes it because she learned it from her aunt Anna twin sister to her mother Stavroula (Loula).
In a few words it is a large oven proof dish with two thick layers penne rigate (pasta) with a layer of ground beef sauce in the middle, topped with a layer of béchamel sauce and baked in the oven.
On July 30th was my birthday and by the way I thank everybody from Greece, Facebook, AUC, Egypt, The English School Heliopolis, The Guezira Sporting Club in Zamalek, Cairo, France, Canada, Zimbabwe, Zoo-loo land, and of course U.S.A. who wished me a "Happy Birthday". I had a blast. Plus didn't have to cook a thing that day because Maria did everything.  I washed everything up afterwards though!! So here goes...
To make a pastitsio you will need:
1-  A béchamel sauce.
2-  ¾ cooked penne.
3-  A ground beef tomato sauce.
4-  Cheese.
5-  A rectangular baking dish 40 cm  long, 27 cm wide and 6 cm deep.
Serves10 -12
For the béchamel you will need:
-  280 gr. of butter.
-  280 gr. of sifted flour.
-  2 liters of whole milk.
-  150 ml. of fresh cream 35%.
-  Salt and pepper.
-  ½ tsp. nutmeg.
-  1 Tbsp olive oil
-  1 Tbsp. pink pepper corns(baie rose).
-  2 eggs well beaten.
-  100 gr. grated Irish Kerrygold Regato cheese.
-  100 gr. fresh Mizithra cheese.
-  Cling film.
Making the Béchamel Sauce.
-  Melt butter with olive oil, on medium heat, till melted.
-  Add flour and stir till all the flour is incorporated and then stir some more for the flour to cook.
-  Add milk and cream while stirring till all the both are incorporated .
-  In the meantime in an electric spice pulverizer add pepper, baie roses , nutmeg and pulverize and mix well.
-  Sprinkle over the béchamel and stir to incorporate.
-  Let cool for 5 minutes, add the well beaten eggs and the cheeses till they are well incorporated.
-  Put the cling film on the béchamel surface itself so as not to let the sauce surface make that unwanted crust after cooling.
-  Set aside till you are ready to use it.
Making Penne Rigate (Pasta) you will need:
-  1 kg of Penne Rigate Barilla No. 73.
-  A big pot with lots of boiling water add 3 Tbsp. kitchen salt.
-  A big colander.
Method to make the pasta:
-  As the water has reached boiling point after adding the salt, add the 1 kg of penne and stir every once in a while so that they do not stick to the bottom of the pot.
-  Set your timer to 8 minutes instead of 11 which is written on the pasta box.  Don't forget this same pasta will be baked for 45 minutes or so.

-  When timer goes off drain pasta and keep in the colander.  In this case only (because they will be heated again in the oven) throw enough cold water on the penne 1) to stop the cooking and 2) to wash away the starch to prevent them from sticking to each other.
-  Return penne to pot and add 1/3 of the béchamel sauce over them and mix well so that they are all coated with the béchamel sauce.
-  Keep the penne aside till you need them.
For the ground beef sauce:
-  1200 gr. ground beef passed only once through the mincing machine. Meat grinding machines in Greece do not have cutters with different hole sizes so we can get only one size of ground beef. If we want it finer, then we ask the butcher to pass the already ground beef a second time through the machine.
-  1 Tbsp. dry thyme.
-  1 Tbsp. caster sugar.
-  ½ tsp. cayenne powder
-  ½ tsp cinnamon
-  ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper.
-  250 gr. onion finely chopped.

-  500 gr. grated tomatoes with juice (concassé).
-  1 tsp. tomato paste.
-  ½ cup good quality olive oil.
Making of the ground beef sauce:
-  Heat olive oil in large deep frying pan with cover,  add the onion and stir fry till soft.

-  Add thyme, mix and stir.
-  Add the pepper, sugar, cayenne and mix again well.
-  Add the ground meat and mix well until all sides are well browned.
-  Add the concassé and the tomato paste with no water.
-  Mix let simmer at low heat for  20 minutes covered stirring once in a while to get homogenous distribution of the heat.
-  When time is up turn off heat.
Now, for the last step to this marvelous dish: Putting all the above together.
-  Butter well the bottom and sides of a rectangular oven proof dish.
-  Add about half the quantity of cooked beshamel coated penne.
-  Add the ground beef sauce to cover all the penne.

-  Add regato cheese and Mizithra to cover the beef sauce.
-  Add the other half of the penne.
-   Top with the rest of the béchamel sauce.

-  Bake for 20 minutes at 180 degrees C then increase oven temperature to maximum for 15 minutes, till a nice color is achieved.
Et voila!!


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