During my few years living on the stunning island of Kefalonia, many things about the island have stayed with me, none less than the magnificent food.
From the dishes shared by the family whom my apartment was rented from, to the local restaurants that were frequented more by locals rather than tourists.
One dish that I go back to time and time again is that of Pastitsio – A layered pasta dish, vaguely similar to lasagne, but also very very different in both taste and texture.
With lockdown meaning that a summer trip to Greece is looking less and less likely, I took it upon myself to recreate the dish, while the spring sunshine was upon us.
The dish is made up of three layers.
1. A Pasta Base
2. A Meat Sauce
3. A Bechamel Sauce
This is where the lasagne resemblance comes from, however once assembled and baked, it takes on a completely different dish.
To make things easy, the layers can be prepared separately and time wise it would make sense to start with the meat.
The Meat Sauce
500g of Mince Meat
Tin of chopped tomatoes or small carton of passata
1 tablespoon of Tomato Purée
250ml of beef stock
2 Small Onions – Finely Chopped
3 Cloves of Garlic
2-3 Bay Leaves
Sprig of Thyme (or dried)
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Start by softening the onions in a pan with some olive oil and butter, when translucent add the mince and brown.
Once browned off, add the garlic, tomato, stock and dried ingredients – this should then simmer for around 45mins until its reduced down to a thick meaty sauce. Stir regularly to stop it catching on the bottom of the pan.
While the meat is simmering away, you can make the bechamel. For this you need.
A pint of milk
80g of butter
80g of flour
Start by gently heating the milk in a saucepan so its warmed though, while that’s happening , melt the butter in a pan
Take the melted butter and add all the flour. Mix this to a smooth paste with a wooden spoon.
Cook off this paste for a few minutes over a medium heat, this cooks through the flour and stops a floury tasting bechamel sauce.
After a few minutes, start to add the warm milk, a little at a time, keep on mixing through and keeping it smooth. It will start to become very thick, but keep adding the milk little by little, until its all combined. Continue heating for a few more minutes and you should be left with a smooth and thick sauce. Leave this to cool with a lid on so it doesn’t skin over.
When cool, add a beaten egg to the sauce, mix through thoroughly – this will help to create the thick topping on the Pastitsio.
The Pasta Base
Dried Pasta (Approx 350g)
Grated Cheese (Ideally Feta but any cheese will do)
Traditionally this would be Bucatini, a cross between spaghetti and macaroni – think long spaghetti, but the thickness of macaroni with a hole running through it, however you could use any pasta, for this occasion we couldn’t get any Bucatini and so used Casareccia, a rolled up kind of Pasta, but something like Strozzapreti would work well too.
Cook the pasta as per the instructions and allow to cool, once cool, stir through 2 beaten eggs and a handful of grated cheese. Ideally this should be feta, however again as we were without, I substituted for some Parmesan.
Now you can layer.
Pasta Base with the cheese and eggs added – spoon on the thick meat sauce, followed by the thick bechamel.
I top with some grated nutmeg and place in an oven, preheated to 180c for approx 45 mins.
Now for the hardest bit – the resistance.
You need to leave it once its cooked to cool down a little and allow the top to set. It will still be warm after about 45 mins. At which point, cut into it like a pie, take a large portion, and enjoy with a glass of wine and ideally some sunshine – sit back and imagine you too are in Greece 🙂