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Archive for October, 2014

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Pastitsio is the most delicious of comfort foods. It tastes good the day you make it and even better the following day as the flavours have time to marinate. Pastitsio is a classic Greek dish of a meaty sauce sandwiched between soft cheesy pasta layers and topped with a rich velvety creamy béchamel sauce.  It is to Greece what Shepherds Pie is to England. It can be served on its own or with a salad. I just keep it simple with a side helping of grated Parmesan.

I find it hard to have any self control when eating this dish.  Hot, warm or cold straight from the fridge I just cannot resist it.  Every Greek home has their own unique take on the recipe. Starting with the mince – in the north of Greece they use veal while in the south lamb, but goat or pork is fine. This is a recipe you change to suit your own and your family’s tastes and what you have in the cupboard.

The Kefalotyri cheese is not always easy to find in England. It is a hard pale cheese, traditionally made from goat or sheep’s milk with a tangy taste. A good substitute for taste would be a Gruyere but it lacks the hard texture of the Kefalotyri. I tend to replace it with Romano or Parmesan. Failing that I will use whatever hard cheeses I have lurking in the fridge.

My mother liked to mix the pasta and meat all together putting the béchamel over the top. As delicious as it was I much prefer my way, of placing three quarters of the pasta mixed with oil, a little cheese and a couple of spoons of béchamel, a layer of meat and then a layer of the remaining pasta and crowned with the béchamel.

The ultimate I think is to eat it soon after cooking when the béchamel sauce is very soft and oozes over the meat and pasta, but if it is left to stand for 30 minutes it will be easier to cut into neat portions.

Some recipes use the 3 egg whites by binding them into the pasta with the olive oil – I don’t think this lends anything to the overall flavour or appearance and is a bit of a waste. I prefer to set aside my egg whites and use them to make meringues.

Both the Misko Pastitsio Macaroni no. 2 and the Kefalotyri cheese can be bought from the Athenian Grocery shop in Moscow Road, London W2 4BT they also do mail order.  I have been going to this shop since a small child, little has changed over the years which adds to its charm.  I hope it never changes because it works as it is perfectly.

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Pastitsio

makes 8 portions

The Meat Sauce

500g minced lamb (beef, goat, pork can be used instead)
1 large yellow onion finely diced
1 clove of garlic crushed
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Cinnamon stick
Bay leaf
Glass of red wine (optional)
Oregano

The Pasta

500g Misko Pastitsio Macaroni no. 2 or use the Italian ziti pasta or penne
2 tablespoons Olive oil
25g grated Kefalotyri (or Romano/Parmesan/gruyere cheese if you cannot find Kefalotyri)

The Béchamel Sauce

1 litre full fat milk
110g plain flour
110g salted butter
75g Kefalotyri cheese or Romano/Parmesan
3 egg yolks beaten
A little ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Oven 180-200C

Meat Sauce

Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and sauté the onions until soft add the garlic and then the meat. Break down the mince with the back of the spoon, as it cooks it will crumble down. You want to achieve an even crumble of mince.

Add the tomatoes, cinnamon stick, oregano, bay leaf and simmer gently until the meat has absorbed the juice, about 30-40 minutes. Stir the meat from time to time so that it doesn’t stick. After cooking remove the cinnamon stick and bay leave.
Béchamel sauce

Melt the butter in a pan and then add the flour stirring well. Cook the flour and butter through for a few minutes. Add the warmed milk a bit at a time stirring the sauce well, if the sauce thickens too quickly remove from the heat and continue to beat, once smooth return to the heat and add the rest of the milk.

Add the cheese, seasoning and nutmeg if using. Allow to cool slightly before adding the beaten egg yolks. If the eggs are added when the sauce is too hot there is a chance of curdling them. Give the béchamel sauce a good stir until a smooth constituency is reached.

Pasta

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and drop the pasta in. Cook for 7 mins. Drain and rinse under cold water. The pasta has a habit of retaining water because of the hollow tubes so give the sieve a good shake to make sure the water is drained.

Return the pasta to the pan and add the olive oil, stir and coating the pasta. This stops the pasta from sticking to itself. Add the grated cheese and a large spoon of the béchamel sauce and stir in.

Assembly of Pastitsio

Grease an ovenproof dish and put two thirds of the pasta in. Add all the meat leveling it out. Put the rest of the pasta over the top again leveling it and on top on this pour the béchamel sauce. Sprinkle some extra cheese on the top and place into the oven. Cook for 40-50 minutes. It is ready when the top has risen and is a golden brown colour.

Remove from the oven and leave to stand for about 30 minutes. This will allow the Pastitsio to set so that when it is served it will keep its shape on the plate.

Pastitsio will also keep well in the fridge and can be microwaved when portioned up.  It is not the same as reheating in the oven but as I have said this is one comfort food I can eat any way!

 

 

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