I have ever even heard of Pastitsio until I watched this clip of Chef Rick Stein making this dish from one of his Mediterranean Escape series. Rick Stein and Keith Floyd flourished around the same time together to become established chefs. Rick Stein also made an appearance in Malaysia and claimed his favourite dish was the ‘Nazy Lemach‘ – Nasi Lemak (at 2:07).
In the clip, Rick Stein used rather specific ingredients that you can’t really get here so I’m doing my version using what is readily available in the pantry.
Normally, you should let it cool slightly before digging in, but I was impatient, I wanted to eat it while the cheese was still oozing, I do not claim any responsibility for burnt tongues but do take credit for satisfied hearts and stomachs.
3 handfuls of grated parmesan Cheese
2 handfuls of grated Cheddar cheese
Penne pasta (or use Rigatoni) enough to fill half the bowl you’re using
500 gm lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 stalks of celery chopped to small pieces
A can of diced tomatoes
A small can of tomato purée
2 teaspoon Cayenne for heat but optional
1/4 cup Water / Beef stock
200 gm butter
1 full cup flour
500 ml milk (you might need more or less)
1. In a hot pan, sautee your onions, garlic and celery in olive oil. Add your ground beef and brown them.
2. Add your herbs, oregano, parsley and basil as well as salt and black pepper. Pour in your diced tomatoes and the tomato puree.
3. Add cayenne and cinnamon powder. Stir and let it simmer for a while, if it looks too thick, add your water or beef stock, if you like the consistency then leave it. I prefer a semi-dry sauce cos I don’t like it too wet when I cut into the pastitsio.
4. In a deep pot, boil your pasta according to instructions. While this is going on, have a another pot ready for the Bechamel on the stove and heat your butter till it melts. Add your flour when the butter has melted and stir with your spoon.
5. When all the flour has been incorporated to the butter, pour your milk in gradual phases. Pour about 100 ml first then make sure to stir till everything is mixed, and then pour your milk again. You might have to do it a few times but never pour all your milk at once. When you have reached a creamy consistency, you can stop adding milk.
6. Season your Bechamel with salt and pepper and nutmeg. I also like to put in some of the Parmesan cheese at this stage, about a handful. Leave it on very low heat.
7. When the pasta has cooked, drain them and put them in a big pot. Pour about 1/2 of your Bechamel sauce onto the penne and coat them thoroughly. Put about a handful of the Parmesan cheese and a handful of the Cheddar and toss everything to coat.
8. Time to layer the pastitsio. Have the dish ready and layer the Bechamel coated penne first. Then lay on the meat sauce and spread. Spread the remaining penne and top it off with the Bechamel sauce. Sprinkle your cheeses all over the top.
9. Place your pastitsio in a pre-heated oven of 180 degrees Celcius and bake for 20 – 30 minutes, or until the top of the pastitsio becomes golden and gratinated.