A classic in my house around Easter, this pastitsio aka “Greek lasagna”, is always a hit. It’s much richer (and slightly more time intensive) than regular lasagna, but allow me to tell you that it is totally worth it. The flavors are unique with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, and the bechamel sauce is richer and creamier than ricotta.
According to my mom, she got the recipe from an old NY Times cookbook, and adapted the recipe here and there over the years (like ziti or rigatoni as opposed to elbow pasta). I also halved it because the original recipe is A LOT, but I added the original recipe from the book in picture form, if you choose to use that version for a larger pan (below).
- 1 lb ziti pasta
- 2 tbsps butter (unsalted, for the meat)
- 1 – 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (2 medium sized onions)
- 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
- 1 cup tomato puree
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 4 tbsps all purpose flour
- 4 tbsps butter
- 4 cups milk
- 3/4 cups heavy cream
- 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Cook the ziti in salted boiling water until tender but still firm, about 8 mins (it will cook in the oven a bit more too)
- Drain ziti and rinse under cold water. Set aside.
- Heat 2 tbsps of the butter in a large skillet and add the onion. Cook, stirring until it’s wilted.
- Add the meat and cook, breaking up lumps with a slotted spoon. If it’s too greasy, you can drain a little of the fat. Cook about ten minutes and add the tomato puree, salt and pepper to taste, cinnamon, oregano, and nutmeg.
- Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour. Mom’s tip is to warm the milk a little before adding it to the mixture. Add the milk and cook, stirring, until the mixture is thickened and smooth. Add 1/2 cup of the parm cheese and combine.
- Combine the cream with the egg yolks and blend. Stir this into the sauce and heat thoroughly, but do not boil or the mixture will curdle.
- Using a large buttered baking pan or aluminum pan, make a layer of pasta, a layer of meat, another layer of pasta, and another layer of meat. Pour the cream sauce/bechamel over the whole thing and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
- Bake for 45 mins.
- Remove the pastitsio from the oven and let cool. If you try to slice into squares when it’s super hot, it will fall apart.
- Editors note: the version my mom makes is not as stiff as the others, but I think it’s better than the ones that stand upright as if held together by glue.
Original from NYT Cookbook (these pages are old AF):