Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pastiche

Pastiche--a hodgepodge, a bit of this and a bit of that.

Pastitsio--the Greek version of lasagna made with fat tubular noodles, bechamel and something similar to a robust Bolognese meat sauce.  Pastitio is the Greek word for pulling together a bit of this and a bit of that and spending most of the day in the kitchen making love for the people who are most important to you--close friends and family.  This is one of my favorite recipes, but I didn't realize that it was...until yesterday morning.

I was having breakfast with international speaker & speaker coach, Deb Sofield, and as we were saying our goodbyes, she asked me for my favorite recipe.  Yesterday, I couldn't tell Deb what it was.  Today, after thinking on this all night, I can share the recipe with Deb and with all of you.  My favorite recipe, although I don't cook it often, is Pastitsio.  So, if it's my favorite, why not cook it often?  Read on...


I don't know who invented this Greek word, but I do know that whoever invented this dish should be canonized! This is one of those comfort foods that I grew up with in Greece. Now it reminds me of the Italian Bolognese sauce and I realize that, here, in the U.S. it would be called a casserole...so its not quite the foreign food that I once thought it to be.

Here's my version. Its easy to prepare, once you've made the sauces, so my recommendation is to make twice as much meat sauce, use one batch and freeze the other half. This will make it easier to prepare next time. Sometimes, I just have time to prepare the sauce. I cook up two batches and freeze. When I have time to do the rest, I pull out one batch and get to cooking. Life is much easier this way. Not a bad thing.  
There are three layers of flavor and texture here.
1) Spicy (not hot) meat sauce to chew on. Lots of flavour elements here. The mouth says, ooooooooohh
2) Creamy and cheese-filled white sauce. Makes your mouth say, aaaaaaaaah
3) Al dente pasta, perked up with Parmesan cheese and grated nutmeg--chewy but brilliantly alive! You mouth says, ahaaa!

Meat Sauce:
2 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 bay leaves
1 T. oregano
1 stick cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg
salt & pepper
1 T. chopped Italian parsley, fresh
cup red wine
1 (28 oz) can whole tomatoes with juice. Crush tomatoes by hand or chop.
2 lbs ground beef
cup olive oil

Heat cup olive oil and saute onion and garlic over low heat. When onion is transparent and soft, remove everything with a slotted spoon. Add rest of oil, turn up heat to med-high and brown the ground beef. When completely browned, add all other seasonings and the onion-garlic mixture. Stir well and enjoy all the aromas. Pour in wine and stir. Add tomatoes and juice, stir well and add enough hot tap water to bring liquid level to 1 over the meat mixture. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover with lid. Allow to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the meat sauce is now a thick but still juicy mix; this may take one hour or maybe a little more. Set aside.

Pasta:
1 lbs ziti or penne pasta, cooked al-dente and drained. Can be hot cold.
2 cups grated parmesan or romano cheese OR mix of both
2 tspns. grated nutmeg

Bechamel Sauce:
6 T. butter (not margarine--butter)
10 T. all purpose flour
8 cups hot milk
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cups grated parmesan, romano or mix of both
salt and pepper

This is actually a simple white sauce and one of the French mother sauces. The Italians have a name for it too--Balsamella.  When you add the nutmeg and cheese, it becomes a dreamy, creamy calorie-laden layer of goodness for our dish.  Actually, once the cheese is added, the name changes and it's called a Mornay sauce, but I supposed that the Greeks and Italians couldn't be bothered changing the name of the sauce after all that cooking, so they still call it Bechamel.

You'll be working with medium heat here, but turn it up or down as needed, making sure never to leave the pot unattended. You are committed to this portion of the recipe, until it is done! You'll need a heavy pot (non-stick, if available), a wooden spoon and a good whisk.

Heat the butter until it begins to foam, add the flour and stir with wooden spoon. Continue to stir until this mixture has a golden color. Slowly pour in about 1/3 of the milk, now using a whisk to combine. Once milk has been incorporated, add the other two thirds, whisking away madly. Allow this to cook and thicken, then mix in the beaten eggs. Move the pot off the heat while you work to incorporate into the flour mixture. Mix in the cheese and nutmeg and place back on low heat, continuing to stir until the sauce is heated through. This will be a thick mixture. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to suit you. Cover and set aside. You may want to wait until the sauce has cooled for about 15 minutes before beginning assembly.

Assembly: 
You'll need a very large baking dish or two large casserole dishes. Oil, grease or butter the pans.
Mix the pasta with nutmeg and cheese. Pour in 1/3 of Bechamel sauce and mix to coat. This will keep pasta connected when you slice to serve the pastitsio. Now add 2/3 of the meat sauce and mix roughly. Pour half the pasta mix into the baking dish/es, top with remaining meat sauce and pour the rest of the pasta mix over that. Press down with a spoon and cover completely with remainder of the Bechamel.

Now, as if there were not enough calories jam-packed into this dish already, lets find half a stick of butter and just cut off bits to dot the surface of the Bechamel with. The butter will melt and give the top of the dish a lovely golden-brown color.

Place the whole thing into a 375F pre-heated oven and bake for 45-60 minutes, depending on your oven. You want to see a golden-brown color on top this will be your sign that the dish is ready.
Remove from oven and set aside for 20 minutes. The dish has to cool long enough for the sauces to set a little, before serving. Plus, this gives you just enough time to prepare a lovely vinegary salad to balance out the creamy rich Pastitsio. Yin and Yang at work!

This is a great dish to serve hot, cold, room temperature, freeze or to take to a picnic. How versatile, and oh, so tasty!

CAUTION:  Preparation and consumption of this dish may cause widening of the hips.  Consume at your own risk.

Hey, wait a minute:  I didn't tell you that Deb is also a great cook.  She has a food blog called Country Cookin' Makes You Good Lookin' and this is one of my favorite recipes of Deb's for Bread Pudding.  I recommend you share it only with your favorite people.

This is Deb with one of her favorite people, her mom.

If you'd like to stay in touch with Deb, or to learn more about her speaking and coaching work, you can connect with her on facebook, http://www.facebook.com/DebSofieldSpeechCoach?fref=ts