Today I bring to you a recipe for my favorite comfort food- Pastitsio. It is essentially a Greek baked pasta casserole made with ground meat, spices, tomato sauce, round or tubular or noodles, and Bechamel sauce. Who can resist anything that has Bechamel, seriously?
My husband and I are really serious about this dish. Usually the 9 x 13 inch batch will make 6-7 large servings. We usually end up fighting over the last one. But I usually beat him to it 😉
I heard of Pastitsio as a child, but I never actually ate it until I looked up the recipe online one day (if you google images of it your mouth with water). I found a bunch of recipes online but they all seemed to over-complicate the recipe or called for huge amounts of butter and cream. Not my style. So after some careful recipe studying, I simplified and healthified (if that’s a word) the recipe for Pastitsio, which I present to you today.
I’m actually quite proud of this recipe as it comes out delicious every time, is large enough to feed a small dinner party as the main course, and freezes really nicely for those nights when you don’t want to cook. It does take 1.5 to 2 hours from start to finish, but it is totally worth it. I actually remember the first time I made it, my husband was too excited to finish the leftovers and dropped the poor Pastitsio face down on the floor! Oh well, I can always use an excuse to make it again!
Healthy Pastitsio-aka Greek Lasagna
Serves 6-8 as main dish
For the Tomato Meat Sauce:
1.5-2 tbsp olive oil
1 pound 93% fat-free or similar lean ground turkey (or chicken)
1 large chopped yellow or red onion
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup marsala cooking wine (or dry white wine)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp cayenne pepper
A dash of red chili flakes
A dash of nutmeg
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Béchamel Cheese Sauce
4 tbsp. olive oil or margarine (I like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” spread)
1/4 cup flour
2 cups 1% (low-fat or skim) milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup ground parmesan cheese
Dash of nutmeg
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
10-14 oz of tubular or spiral pasta (rigatoni, ziti, penne rigate, fusili, etc)
Salt as needed for cooking water
To Make the Tomato Meat Sauce:
- Add the onion to a large pot with about 1.5 tbsp oil and cook for a few minutes, until transparent.
- Open ground turkey package and make length and crosswise cuts in meat to chop it into pieces. Add ground turkey to heated pot with onions and saute until no pink remains and it is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper while cooking. Add in the garlic and continue cooking. Add in the wine and spices (oregano, thyme, cinnamon, red chili flakes, cayenne, nutmeg) and stir to incorporate. Next, add the can of crushed tomatoes and stir everything well, bringing it to a simmer and letting it cook for 35-45 minutes.
- In the meantime, cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water.
To make the Béchamel:
- Add oil or margarine spread to a sauté pan on med-high heat until melted. Next slowly add flour, whisking swiftly for a few minutes until it is smooth without lumps. Slowly pour milk and whisk mixture until the sauce is smooth without flour lumps. (It takes about 7-10 minutes to thicken.) Turn off the heat and remove pan, adding in cheese. Let it cool for 5-10 minutes and then add beaten eggs. Sprinkle more nutmeg and stir mixture evenly.
- Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Assemble pastitsio by adding cooked pasta to meat sauce and mixing until well incorporated, then add mixture into a lightly greased 9×13 inch baking dish. Spoon the béchamel evenly over pasta/meat sauce mixture, until smooth and even. Sprinkle the top with more parmesan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until top is firm and golden. You can cover it loosely with foil partially through baking if the top starts to brown too quickly.