Pastitsio (Baked Pasta with Meat Filling and Béchamel Sauce)

By Chef Shannon Hayashi, Culinary Institute of Montana at FVCC

The word “pastitsio” (pa-STEE-tsee-oh) translates to “messy kitchen” in Greek. It’s only a joke, but there is a hint of truth to that statement. The Greek word pastitsio derives from the Italian pasticcio, which loosely translates to a mess or a hodgepodge. This casserole is great for a prolonged winter season. A lovely salad and warm bread would be a beautiful accompaniment to this Montana infused Greek casserole!
Three essential components make up this dish. Pasta, meat filling and a creamy béchamel sauce, layered in a pan and baked to a golden brown.

Pasta

  • 1 lb. elbow macaroni (You can substitute ziti, penne, spaghetti, bucatini.)
  • 2 oz. olive oil

Cook the pasta according to package directions; drain; toss in olive oil; place on the bottom of the 9 x 13 pan. Set aside.

Meat Filling (Best with Montana beef!)

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 lbs. ground beef or ground lamb, or a mixture of both
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic – minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine or red wine or beef broth
  • 1 14-oz. can tomato puree or sauce
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat a pan with the olive oil with the chopped onions and minced garlic. Add the ground meat and brown. Then add the wine or broth, simmer and add the tomato sauce or puree. Stir in the allspice and cinnamon, and season with salt and pepper. Evenly spread the meat filling over the pasta in the 9 x 13 pan. Set aside.

Béchamel Sauce (Milk sauce with Parmesan cheese)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart milk, warmed
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (set aside ¼ of a cup as a topping)
  • A pinch of nutmeg

Note: Béchamel is thicker than gravy but not quite as thick as pudding. It should be somewhere in between. One way to tell if it is thick enough is to dip your wooden spoon in the sauce and draw your finger across the back of the spoon. If the sauce holds a visible line then it is thick enough.

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Using a whisk, add flour to melted butter whisking continuously to make a smooth paste or roux. Allow the flour/butter mixture to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown.

Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens but does not boil. Add a pinch of nutmeg and the Parmesan cheese, stir and pour over the meat filling.

Add the remaining Parmesan cheese and bake in 350 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes or until the top is a nice golden color.

Chef Shannon Hayashi is the Culinary Arts Program Director at The Culinary Institute of Montana at Flathead Valley Community College. For more information about the program, visit www.culinaryinstituteofmt.com.