About the spices; I love the amount of cinnamon but, if you’re not used to this type of seasoning in savory dishes, you might consider using less cinnamon. Again, I think the amount of cinnamon is PERFECT and is what you’d expect when having Pastitsio.
One important thing to be careful with this dish is that you only use 3/4 of a pound of dried pasta. This seems so simple, but, when you’ve been working on this making two different sauces, it’s easily forgotten. The sauce quantities work best with just 3/4 pounds. Also, this really needs a 3 inch deep baking dish.
This dish isn’t difficult to make but it is a bit time consuming and honestly, you use a lot of pans. I’m telling you it’s totally worth it. You can make and assemble the casserole then refrigerate it overnight. Be sure to bring it to room temperature before sticking it in the preheated oven. I also froze the leftovers (that I had baked) in individual quart freezer Ziplocs and they reheated pretty darn well. This recipe makes a fairly large amount so if you’re cooking for just a few people you can divide it in half and pour it into two smaller baking dishes. You could even freeze one of the baking dishes without baking it first.
- Meat Sauce:
- 3 Tablespoons - Olive Oil
- 1 1/2 Cups - Large Yellow Onions, Chopped
- 2 Pounds - Ground Beef
- 1/2 Cup - Dry Red Wine
- 1 Tablespoon - Garlic, Minced
- 1 Tablespoon - Dried Ground Cinnamon
- 1 Teaspoon - Dried Ground Oregano
- 1 Teaspoon - Fresh Thyme Leaves
- A Pinch - Cayenne Pepper
- 1 (28 Ounce) - Can Crushed Tomatoes in Puree
- 2 Teaspoons - Salt
- 1 Teaspoon - Black Pepper
- 1 1/2 Cups - Whole Milk
- 1 Cup - Heavy Cream
- 4 Tablespoons - Unsalted Butter
- 1/4 Cup - All Purpose Flour
- 1/4 Teaspoon - Ground Nutmeg
- 1 Teaspoon - Black Pepper
- 1 1/2 Cups - Parmesan Cheese, Freshly Grated
- 2 - Large Eggs, Beaten
- 2/3 Cup - Plain Greek Style Yogurt
- 3/4 Pound - Small Shell Pasta
- To Taste - Salt
- For the meat sauce, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add the beef and saute over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until it's no longer pink, crumbling it with the back of wooden spoon. Drain off any excess liquid, add the wine, and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and cayenne, and continue cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- For the bechamel, heat the milk and cream together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until simmering. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly for 2 minutes. Pour the warm milk and cream mixture into the butter and flour mixture, whisking constantly. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, until smooth and thick. Add the nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Stir in 3/4 cup of Parmesan, 1/2 cup of the tomato and meat sauce, and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the eggs and yogurt. Taste bechamel for seasoning. Add salt to taste (you may not need it because the cheese may add enough salt) and set aside.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Don't over-cook because the pasta will later be baked. Drain and set aside.
- Add the pasta to the meat and tomato sauce, and pour the mixture into a baking dish. Spread the bechamel evenly to cover the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for 1 hour, until golden brown and bubbly. Set aside for at least 10 minutes and serve hot.