Usually, we visit Corfu, Greece every August, my father-in-law’s native island. This summer, we are going to the Netherlands instead for a wedding so we will miss the blue seas, hot sun and the food…. oh the food!
Just this week I started feeling sad and forlorn about all the things I would not eat this summer. Instead of wallowing in self pity, I decided to start making some of my favorite dishes. I turned to my trusty, dog-eared, Greek cooking handbook. This little book is so dated it is hilarious but has all you need inside to prepare the best Greek feasts. In Corfu, the bookstore carries it in about 15 languages. I often like to image others in Japan or Norway paging through their little blue manual recreating Greek vacation flavors.
Pasticcio is similar to lasagna with less cheese, a thick layer of bechamel sauce on top and special long, hollow-shaped noodles. Do the shape of the noodles really matter? YES! (But, that is a long debate for another blog discussion.) The pasticcio noodles are basically uncut macaroni. You can perhaps find them at a local ethnic grocer. If not, look for bucatini or as a last resort, use regular macaroni. Although, the idea of someone making this with regular macaroni so upsets me that I am almost willing to mail someone a package of noodles if you are seriously considering this recipe and have made every attempt to find the noodles and failed.
The recipe is a bit time consuming as you have to boil noodles, prepare the meat sauce and the bechamel before assembling and baking. But, when you are finished, you will have a huge pan of deliciousness that just tastes betters as the days go on. Pasticcio is leftover heaven.
Like many Greek dishes I have learned to prepare, I have learned to adjust a little of this and a little of that over time to get it just right. Throughout the recipe, I have added my own tips. But, be sure you are tasting regularly and adjusting as needed along the way.
1 T butter
2 lbs. ground beef
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon dried greek oregano
and/or fresh chopped parsley
1/2 cup white wine
1 can (14oz) diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
2 egg whites
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup flour
4 cups hot milk
salt and pepper
1 cup grated cheese
2 eggs and 2 egg yolks
1 lb. pasticcio (macaroni) noodles
1 T salt
2 T butter
1 cup grated cheese
For the Meat Sauce:
Heat butter in pan and saute the onions, garlic and meat until browned. Add remaining ingredients except egg whites. Be generous with the spices and taste regularly. Be sure there is enough salt to bring out the flavor. I always add quite a bit more than the recipe calls for. Let the sauce simmer for 10-15 minutes. Turn off and stir until slightly cooled. Stir in egg whites. (Save the yolks for the bechamel.) You do not want the sauce so hot that it cooks the egg whites immediately. They should be incorporated.
For the Bechamel:
Melt butter in heavy saucepan. Add the flour and whisk for about 1 minute. Add the milk all at once and whisk until sauce is thickened and smooth. I usually heat the milk in another pan or in the microwave before adding. That and a quality, even heating sauce pan help make the best sauce. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. I add quite a healthy dose of each, probably at least 1/2-1 teaspoon. Remove from heat and stir in eggs and cheese. A sharper white cheese works well like Parmesan or Asagio. I do not think Mozzarella has enough flavor.
For the noodles:
Bring water to a boil with salt. Cook noodles until tender but slightly firm. Drain very well and return to pan. Stir in butter.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large, deep pan (lasagna pan works well). You can see by the amount of ingredients you have, this makes a large dish and serves at least 8 people.
Put half the noodles in the pan and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of cheese. Top the noodles with the meat sauce. Place the rest of the noodles on the meat sauce. Pour the bechamel over the top. Sprinkle on the remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Some of the noodles will be sticking through the top which is good because they get brown and crunchy in the oven. Bake for approximately 1 hour or until top is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let sit at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
The “little blue book” is called The Best Book of Greek Cookery, ISBN 960 226 119 6PRINT RECIPE