I don't claim any bit of authenticity in my rendition of pasticcio. Until last night, I had never heard of pasticcio or its Greek cousin, pastitsio. It's one of those dishes that I worked out without looking into its origin. So it may not meet the expectation of an expert in authentic Greek or Italian food.
My rendition quickly evolved after watching the "Timeless" episode of Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. Host Guy Fieri featured the Greek Corner Restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., as the lead diner in last night's show.
Restaurant owners George and Themis Boretos menu a baked pasta with meat sauce that's topped with a custard-like Bechamel and baked. As I watched one of the brothers demonstrate how to make the casserole to Guy, I grabbed my notebook and wrote down the process.
Instead of preparing the meat sauce with the clove and cinnamon, I worked on a simple way to convert the recipe to Italian flavors. I didn't want to introduce the Greek flavors just yet at work. A casserole with the more familiar Italian flavor profile would be more widely accepted.
When I arrived at work this morning, I looked up pastitsio on Wikipedia. It's a "Greek or generally Middle Eastern baked pasta dish including pasta, meat sauce, and a custard or bechamel sauce. The dish comes from the Italian tradition of 'pasticcio (di pasta),' literally mess or scramble."
It's interesting to note that the Greek term "pastitsio takes its name from the Italian pasticcio, a large family of pies often involving pasta and ragu. Many Italian versions include a pastry crust, some include bechamel." Other than to note the similarity between the two dishes, I didn't take the time to look up the Italian version.
I found the brother's recipe on the Food Network after a couple clicks. Their recipe became the basis for my rendition. This helped me work quickly instead of taking time to recreate the dish. The doubled recipe easily fit in a 2-inch deep hotel pan.
I don't think the residents cared about the authenticity of my pasticcio. They enjoyed the flavors. I will prepare the casserole again soon.
CHEF STEVE'S PASTICCIO
This recipe is adapted from one provided to the Food Network by the Greek Corner Restaurant. The pasta and meat mixture fills the hotel pan to the brim. The firm bechamel will fit in the pan without spilling over.
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
Ground black pepper, to taste
4 bay leaves
1-1/2 tablespoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
4 pounds ground beef (80/20 blend is best)
Salt, to taste
1 cup peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 pounds ziti or penne, cooked
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
Bechamel sauce, recipe follows
In a large saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil, onion, garlic, black pepper, to taste, bay leaves, basil and oregano and saute for a few minutes. Add ground beef, stirring continuously, until all the meat is cooked and browned. Stir in salt, to taste, fresh tomato and tomato puree. Let simmer for about 20 minutes, then remove the bay leaves.
Brush a 2x12x20-inch hotel pan generously with melted margarine. Add the cooked ziti or penne, beaten egg, cheese and meat mixture. Mix until well combined. Top with bechamel sauce and sprinkle with more grated Parmesan. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes in a preheated 300-degree F oven. Remove from the oven and cool 15 minutes.
Cut 4 by 6 for 24 regular servings. For hearty eaters, cut 3 by 4 for 12 large servings.
2 quarts milk
1 pound margarine
1 pound all-purpose flour
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and ground black pepper
Heat the milk in medium saucepan over low heat. In separate medium saucepan over medium heat, melt margarine, then add flour and mix well. Stir in heated milk, beaten eggs, cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg, to taste. Whisk until thickened. Keep warm until ready to use.