BY: Jennifer MacKenzie
A baked pasta casserole is always a sure fire hit for a potluck. Pastitsio is often referred to as the Greek version of lasagna and, while the components and layering are similar, this cousin includes aromatic spices, oregano and thyme in a thick meat sauce sandwiched between tubes of cheese-sauce coated pasta for the base and a yogurt-laced, fluffy custard layer on top—all baked to golden goodness, of course. There are two options for making this ahead: bake the entire dish ahead and reheat it in the oven before serving, or keep the components separate and complete the final assembly and baking until a couple of hours before you plan to serve it.
1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tsp (10 mL) dried oregano
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon
½ tsp (2 mL) dried thyme
⅛ tsp (0.5 mL) ground allspice or cloves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1½ lbs (750 g) lean ground beef or lamb (or a mixture)
1 can (796 mL) crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp (30 mL) red wine vinegar
¼ cup (60 mL) butter
¼ cup (60 mL) all-purpose flour
2½ cups (625 mL) milk, heated
¼ tsp (1 mL) ground nutmeg
1½ cups (375 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
12 oz (375 g) penne or other tube-shaped pasta
¾ cup (175 mL) plain Greek yogurt
1 Heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the oil in a large, deep pot over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes or until soft. Add garlic, bay leaves, oregano, cinnamon, thyme, allspice and ½ tsp (2 mL) each of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes or until fragrant.
2 Increase heat to high. Add beef and cook, breaking up with a spoon, for about 15 minutes or until juices are evaporated and meat is well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes and vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, for about 40 minutes or until very thick and flavours are blended. Discard bay leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set sauce aside. (If keeping components separate to assemble later, transfer sauce to an airtight container, let cool, then refrigerate for up to 2 days.)
3 Meanwhile, melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in flour while stirring. Cook, whisking, for 2 minutes (do not let brown). Pour in hot milk while whisking constantly. Increase heat to medium and bring to a boil whisking constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently, whisking, for about 5 minutes or until sauce is thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in nutmeg, 1 cup (250 mL) of the Parmesan and ½ tsp (2 mL) salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. (If keeping components separate to assemble later, transfer sauce to an airtight container, let cool, then refrigerate for up to 2 days.)
4 While sauces are cooking, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm (2 to 3 minutes less than the package directions). Drain well and return to pot. (If keeping components separate to assemble later, toss drained pasta with 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 days.)
5 To bake, preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
6 If sauces and pasta have been made ahead and refrigerated, let pasta and meat sauce stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Reheat cheese sauce in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring often until slightly warmed and fluid.
7 To assemble, butter a 9 x 13-inch (23 x33‑cm) glass baking dish. Pour 1 cup (250 mL) of the cheese sauce into pasta and toss gently to coat. Spread in baking dish, packing slightly. Spread meat sauce evenly over pasta.
8 Whisk eggs in a bowl; whisk in yogurt. Add remaining cheese sauce and whisk until blended. Pour over meat sauce and gently spread to cover evenly. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan evenly over top of sauce.
9 Place dish on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any drips). Bake for about 1 hour or until sauce is bubbling and top is golden and puffed. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving. (To serve later, let cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days.To reheat, let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Replace plastic wrap with foil and bake in 350°F (180°C) oven for about 1 hour. Uncover and bake for about 15 minutes or until hot in the centre.)