Friday Recipe: Pasticcio

Jun 12 2009 Published by under Recipes

I do all of the cooking in my house; my wife amazing at baking, but she's just totally lost when it comes to cooking. But given my commute, it's hard to start making a nice dinner when I get home, and have it done in time to be able to eat, and have some time with my kids before they go to bed. So I like to make large dishes on the weekend, so that we've got a couple of days during the week when we just need to heat something up. So casseroles are a great thing.

Unfortunately, I don't know a lot of casseroles. So a few weekends ago, I tried something new: pasticcio. Pasticcio is sort of like greek lasagna; it's layers of pasta alternated with a meat sauce, and topped with béchamel sauce. I've had pasticcio in lots of Greek restaurants, but I never tried making it myself. It turned out really good.

The big secret to it is spices: in my experience, the difference between a really good pasticcio, and a bland boring one is the spices in the meat. The flavor of the good ones comes largely from a very nice middle-eastern spice blend called "ras el hanout". Ras el hanout can be a bit hard to find, but it's worth the trouble of searching for. It's got a lot of ingredients, and the exact combination is very individual. So you want to either find a recipe and make your own blend, or else find someplace that makes a good one. It's typically got things like cloves, cinammon, cardamom, mace, paprica, black pepper, and dried rosebuds(!). I've found a ras that I really like from the spice house.

Ingredients

  • Meat Sauce:
    • 2 lbs ground beef.
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ras el hanout.
    • 1 minced onion.
    • 2 large cloves garlic, minced.
    • 2 teaspoons salt.
    • 1 can diced tomatoes.
    • 1/2 teaspoon oregano.
    • 1/4 cup dry sherry.
    • 2 egg whites.
  • Bechamel:
    • 1/4 cup butter.
    • 1/3 cup flour.
    • 2 cups milk.
    • 2 eggs + 2 egg yolks.
    • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.
    • 1 teaspoon salt.
  • Pasta:
    • 1 1/2 lbs pasta.
    • 1 tablespoon butter.
    • 1 pinch salt.

Instructions:

  1. Cook the pasta. (to be authentic, it should be long hollow noodles - like uncut penne; I just used penne). When its done, toss it with just enough butter to stop it from sticking together, and a pinch of salt.
  2. On high heat, brown the meat. While it's cooking, add most of the salt, and half the ras el hanout.
  3. Remove the meat from the pan. Deglaze with the sherry, and dump the liquid into the meat.
  4. Add some olive oil to the pan on medium heat.
  5. Add the onions and the garlic, and sautee them until they're translucent.
  6. Add the meat back to the pan.
  7. Add the can of tomatoes, any remaining sherry, the remaining ras el hanout, and the oregano. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool.
  8. When it's cooled a little bit, mix in the egg whites. It should be cooled enough that the eggs don't just cook when they hit the meat. They're there to act as a binder, to get the meat to hold together in the casserole, so you don't want them to bind until the casserole is cooked.
  9. Melt the butter on medium heat. When it's all melted, add the flour, and cook until the flour starts to turn golden. Then add the milk and salt. Cook it until it thickens - it should turn very thick.
  10. Once it's thickened, remove it from the heat, and add in the grated cheese and the eggs, and mix thoroughly.
  11. In a rectangular casserole, put half of the pasta on the bottom of the pan. Cover it with half of the meat. Then add the other half of the pasta, and the remaining meat.
  12. Spoon the bechamel sauce over the top of the casserole, to form an even layer.
  13. Cover lightly with foil, and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
  14. Remove the foil cover, and bake for another 20 minutes, until the bechamel on top starts to brown.

No responses yet

  • SteveF says:

    Pastitsio has cinammon in it; if it doesn't, it's not really pastitsio. Also, not sure why Ras el Hanout is there, since that's a North African (and Middle Eastern) thing. Not Greek at all. Also, ideally, it should have kefalotiri cheese. So basically, you've not made pastitsio. What you have made still sounds good though!

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Re #1:
    Ras el Hanout has cinnamon in it.
    The way that I learned about Ras was from a cookbook by the chef at Molyvos. He claims that Ras el Hanout is a family of blends consisting mainly of what french call "sweet" spices - cinammon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, etc, and that the blends have different names in different countries; the blend that you can find in american spice shops usually uses the African name, but it's roughly the same thing.
    It sounds to me like very much like the story of coffee - Greek coffee, Turkish coffee, Israeli coffee, Egyptian coffee, and Moroccan coffee are all pretty much the same. They're all made from dark-roasted coffee, ground extremely fine, and cooked loose in a stovetop chimney-pot with sugar and spices. The exact blend of stuff mixed in to the coffee varies slightly from region to region - coriander in Egypt, cardamom in turkey, one of the others adds roasted chicory. (Personally, I think that the coriander seed in coffee is an abomination; the cardamom is wonderful, and the chicory is mediocre. I've also had variants with allspice and/or cinammon, which was very nice.)
    I do realize that I used the wrong cheese, but I'm working out of an American kitchen. It's hard to get good quality Greek cheese. Most stores only sell feta (which isn't bad if
    it's *good* feta, but the run of the mill grocery sells crappy feta).
    At one point, one of my wife's greek coworkers gave her a block of cheese from a Greek grocery in Queens, along with instructions for making saganaki; the name "kefalotiri" sounds familiar, so that might have been it. Is that traditionally also used for saganaki? If so, that would mean that I've got a source :-).

  • Dude, are you fucking high?!? PICTURES!!!!!!!! Otherwise your recipe ain't shit!

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Re CPP:
    Yeah, well, (a) I'm lazy about taking pictures, and (b) I had no idea that it was going to be that good until after I'd served it, at which point it was too late for a nice picture.

  • an Italian says:

    But Pasticcio is an Italian recipe! It is not Greek. As Italian, I am not a really big fan of spicy meal... a good Pasticcio is good even if the meat is not so spicy... salt, onion, and garlic should be sufficient. The ingredient quality is the most important thing! Moreover other two common ingredients are ham, in small pieces, and peas...

  • PalMD says:

    For tsaganaki, it's usually kasseri rather than kefelotiri.

  • Daniel Zukowski says:

    So you’re posting a recipe with meat again. Recently you wrote about your regret when your dog died. Think about the animals that were killed for your meal. I hope you’re able to feel at least a bit of compassion for them.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Re #7:
    Have you ever heard the phrase "mind your own damn business"?
    Seriously, do you *really* think that randomly posting arrogant comments on recipe blogs is going to change anyone's choices about what foods they eat?
    Do you really believe that no one has actually considered the implications of their food choices, and come to a different conclusion than you?
    Give me a break. You're not going to change my mind this way. I very much doubt you're going to change the mind of any other readers of this blog this way either.

  • Andrew says:

    Re #7:
    If God didn't want us to eat cows, then why did he he make them from steak?
    Instead, you'd rather kill and eat defenceless plants, who don't even have half a chance to run away.
    Extracting tongue from cheek now....

  • AnyEdge says:

    @7,
    Ignoring for a moment the tone and addressing the substance of your comment:
    I do believe, philosophically, that people should be able to confront the consequences of their decisions in life, and one consequence of eating meat is a dead animal. For some people (like me) this is no big deal. For others (presumably you) this is a deal breaker. That's ok. I made sure that I could confront the necessities of meat eating by killing a few of my meals. Rabbits, fish. My father made me watch as he killed a chicken, so that I would understand where it came from and what it meant. It was a good lesson. My sister has a farm and slaughters her own pigs and goats. You're absolutely right about facing that eating meat means killing an animal. It isn't a trivial thing to do. It makes you think. And that's good.
    Now, regarding your tone: Mark is right. You're not going to convince anyone that way. Just talk about what it mean for you not to eat meat, and how it makes you feel. When you thrust your ideas out and try to require that others consider them personally, you alienate, rather than educating. Of course, now I've done it too, so feel free to ignore me.

  • radio_babylon says:

    i personally like to sprinkle sumac (http://www.amazon.com/s/qid=1245181212/?keywords=sumac&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Asumac%2Ci%3Agrocery) on top of my serving (kinda like some people do with parmesan or black pepper)... not everyone likes it, but i think its mmm mmm good 🙂

  • Nelson says:

    When I was in college, I took Asian Philosophy. One was an Indian philosophy called Jainism. Some Jain's believed that they should lie perfectly still, so as not to effect (affect?) the living things in the world around them: eating them, breathing them, or accidentally crushing them with small movements. In principle, non-violence for all living beings since every living being has a soul. They refrain from eating green vegetables, and only eat rooted vegetables like once a week.
    So what if a Jainist told #7 that he or she were a terrible person for #7's eating habits or general actions? #7 would likely rationalize and come to terms with their actions, rather than convert to Jainism. Ever person does the same to some degree.
    Disclaimer: I took that class a while ago, didn't do that well in it. I'm just using it to put #7's views in context, not speak for a religion.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Re #12:
    I had a good friend in college (who I haven't heard from in years; if you're out there Binny, drop me a line!) who was a Jainist. We had some fun conversations about it.
    As she explained it to me, they believe that you can't live without harming other living things, but that it's important to do as little harm as possible. One example that she gave me was that they wouldn't eat carrots - because to eat a carrot, you need to pull out the entire plant, which kills it. But they would eat wheat - a Jainist farmer would grow the wheat, and harvest one stalk from each plant. That way, you're killing the stalk, but not killing the entire plant.
    It's an interesting philosophy - incredibly gentle. It makes a typical American vegan look almost bloodthirsty in comparison.
    But it does put things in context. A Jainist monk will eat the smallest amount of food that keeps him alive, and won't eat anything that's been picked or plucked or pulled; they'll eat fruit which fell from the tree by itself, and no more of that than is absolutely necessary.
    From a moral standpoint, it's an ultra-purist version of what some vegetarians try to promote. (The qualification there is deliberate; I was a vegetarian for a few years, and I've got friends who still are; most veg folks aren't obnoxious and pushy about trying to make everyone follow the same choices that they do.) And it is interesting to see the justifications made by some of the moralistic vegetarians when confronted with the Jainist approach.
    It's a sad but unavoidable fact that we can only live by consuming - and thereby killing and destroying - other living things. For almost everyone, there's *some* line - some thing that they're willing to eat and destroy. Whether it's a piece of fruit that fell from a tree, but not one that was picked; or a vegetable but not an animal; or fish but not a mammal; or stupid mammals but not clever ones; or all animals but not people - there's always a line. And if you really dig in deep, that line always ends up being arbitrary in some way, because in biology, pretty much every line is fuzzy.
    The arbitrariness of it doesn't mean that we shouldn't make moral choices about what we eat - obviously I think we should. But we should recognize just how fuzzy those lines are, rather than trying to pretend that we've got some kind of perfect, razor-sharp objective truth about what's right and wrong to eat. I think that pretty much everyone would agree that killing your neighbor because you feel like a human-steak sandwich is wrong; and I think that pretty much everyone would agree that eating an apple that fell naturally from a tree is OK. But between that, there's no absolute hard line.

  • TwoPi says:

    Thank you for posting this! I made it for dinner tonight, and it went over well -- even my kids ate it (and they almost never eat anything that's not from a box).
    I faked ras el hanout using one of the first recipes that came up in a web search (adding in a couple of other spices -- a touch of smoked paprika, pinches of mace cardamom).
    Question: how many ounces are in a can? I went with a 14.5 oz can of diced toms, but could have also bought a 28 oz can.
    Deglazing ground beef? That threw me. Deglazing usually (I think) involves removing excess fat as step one, then adding savory liquid, using it to lift off cooked on meat and cooked on [stuff] from the pan, then cooking down to a thick sauce. But with ground beef, I found essentially no burned on meat to lift off, and pouring off the fat left a nearly clean pan to deglaze. So I think I'm missing something.
    Still, my wife and I thought it was great, and my children (ages 9 and 6) ate it too. High praise!

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Re #14:
    That's not faking ras el-hanout, that's making your own ras el-hanout! That's a good thing.
    As far as the deglazing goes: one of the most common mistakes that people make when they're cooking is to undercook things when they're browning. It takes me between 15 and 20 minutes on high heat to fully brown a couple of pounds of ground beef. You don't just want it to be cooked through - you want to cook it until the beef starts to stick to the pan, and turn a nice dark-brown color, rather than the light grayish brown of just cooked beef. If you really let it cook for long enough on high heat, constantly stirring it, you'll get a beautiful brown, and you will get some bits sticking to the pan to deglaze. And you'll be amazed at how much better the meat tastes! (Beef is something that really needs to be either barely cooked, or cooked to death. In between, the flavor becomes dulled, and the texture gets rubbery. But rare, it's lovely, and cooked really well for a long time, it's lovely.)
    Anyway - glad you liked it!

  • Melvin says:

    Mark, thank you for this recipe! I have now made it twice. (Right now the pasticcio is in the oven, and I am sooo hungry...) Just wanted to let you know that I found ras el hanout at a spice store in NYC, Kalustyan's.

Leave a Reply