Greek pasticcio (or pastitsio) is a béchamel-topped dish of macaroni mixed with ground meat cooked with onions in a cinnamon-scented tomato sauce, then mixed with cheese, and béchamel. I often use up leftover meat or poultry instead of ground meat for my pasticcio. The dishes’ name is Italian (it literally means “a mess”) but pasticcio as such does not exist in Italy, though its roots are in the elaborate timbales, the pastry-enrobed meat-pasta-vegetable pies prepared for special occasions.
Makes 6-8 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground veal or beef (see NOTE)
1 teaspoon Maras or Aleppo pepper, or pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup sweet red wine, such as Mavrodaphne or sweet Marsala
1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes –fresh or canned
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
1-2 teaspoons cumin, to taste
1 teaspoon allspice
1 pound ziti or thick hollow macaroni
1 cup light cream or whole milk
1 1/2 cups grated graviera or grana Padano cheese, or more to taste
1 cup grated kefalotyri or pecorino Romano cheese, or more to taste
Yogurt and olive oil béchamel
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups full- fat plain yogurt
1 cup grated smoked cheddar or Metsovone cheese
1 cup grated aged cheddar or Gruyere cheese, more for sprinkling the top
Make the meat filling: In a large, deep lidded skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onions until soft, about8 minutes. Add the garlic and toss, then add the veal or beef in the skillet and sauté, stirring, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Add the wine and simmer for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes and tomato paste, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the cinnamon sticks, the spices and bay leaves. Stir, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or more; the mixture should still be moist. Remove from the heat and discard the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves. Taste, adding pepper and some salt –take into account that the cheeses are quite salty.
Meanwhile, cook the ziti in salted water until just slightly undercooked (2 minutes less than directed on the package). Drain.
Transfer the ziti to a large bowl and immediately stir in the cream or milk and the meat mixture. Add the cheeses and taste to adjust the seasonings. The mixture should be moist; if it is too dry, add a little more milk.
To make the béchamel, whisk together the olive oil and flour, over moderate heat until frothy, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat, whisk a bit longer and add the cold milk and yogurt. Cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, and don’t worry if the mixture looks lumpy. It will become smooth as it cooks and thickens. When it starts to boil, remove from the heat and stir in the cheeses, salt and pepper. Taste and add more cheese or salt, if you like.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200 C).
Add half the béchamel to the pasta-meat mixture and toss to mix. Transfer to an oiled 9-by-12 inch (23X30 cm) baking dish – which is at least 2 ½-inches (6 cm) deep; top with the rest of the béchamel and sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons cheese.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown on top.
Let rest for at least 10 minutes before you cut to serve.
NOTE: Instead of ground meat I often use cooked, leftover meat and/or poultry, sometimes adding a spicy sausage. Dice the meat and sausage (about 2-3 cups) and add to the sautéed onions, then proceeding as described above.