Greek Pastitsio: Baked Pasta With Meat and Béchamel

Pastitsio baked pasta with meat recipe

The Spruce Eats / Teena Agnel

  • Total: 90 mins
  • Prep: 45 mins
  • Cook: 45 mins
  • Servings: 24 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
509 Calories
29g Fat
38g Carbs
22g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
×
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 509
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 29g 37%
Saturated Fat 13g 67%
Cholesterol 144mg 48%
Sodium 268mg 12%
Total Carbohydrate 38g 14%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Protein 22g
Calcium 151mg 12%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

When teaching others to make this dish, some cooks tease that the word pastitsio (pa-STEE-tsee-oh) translates to "messy kitchen" in Greek. Although just a joke, there is a hint of truth to that statement. The Greek word pastitsio is derived from the Italian pasticcio, which loosely translates to a mess or a hodgepodge. You can think of it as the Greek version of lasagna.

Three essential components make up this dish—pasta, meat filling, and a creamy béchamel sauce—which are layered in a pan and baked to a golden brown. You use some egg whites for the pasta stage and reserve the yolks for the béchamel. Each prep step will require dirtying some pots and pans, but the end result is well worth the cleanup.

You'll likely need to find some of the ingredients at a specialty retailer or online, as this recipe calls for a specific type of Greek pasta shape used for this dish. If you happen to live near a great cheesemonger or a supermarket with an excellent cheese selection, you may be able to find the sharp, salty Kefalotri cheese; otherwise, the closest and most widely available substitute would be Parmesan.

Ingredients

  • For the Meat Filling:
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 pounds ground beef (or ground lamb, or a mixture of both)
  • 1 large yellow onion (chopped)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 (14-ounce) can tomato puree (or sauce)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh parsley (chopped)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • For the Pasta:
  • 1 (16-ounce) box #2 Macaroni for pastitsio (available at Greek or specialty grocers)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 egg whites (reserve the yolks for béchamel sauce)
  • 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese or Kefalotyri, (grated, divided)
  • For the Béchamel Sauce:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart milk (warmed)
  • 8 egg yolks (beaten lightly)
  • Pinch ground nutmeg

Steps to Make It

Note: while there are multiple steps to this recipe, this pastitsio dish is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.

Make the Meat Filling

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for meat filling
    The Spruce  / Teena Agnel
  2. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan.

    Olive oil in pan
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  3. Add ground beef and cook over medium-high heat until the pink color disappears about 5 minutes.

    Add ground beef
    The Spruce Eats / Teena Agnel
  4. Add onions and cook until they are translucent, about 5 minutes more.

    Ground meat and onions for pastitsio
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  5. Add wine, tomato sauce, parsley, allspice, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and allow the sauce to simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.

    Sauces and spices simmering with meat and onions
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  6. Stir breadcrumbs into meat sauce to absorb excess liquid; remove from heat.

    Stir breadcrumbs into meat, onions, and sauce
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel

Make the Noodles

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for noodles
    The Spruce  / Teena Agnel
  2. While sauce is simmering, put water on to boil for pasta. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain well.

    Elbow macaroni boiling in a pot of water
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  3. Rinse noodles in a colander under cold water to cool them slightly.

    Pasta rinsed in a colander
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  4. Melt butter in pasta pot and return the cooked noodles to the pot.

    Drain pasta
    The Spruce Eats / Teena Agnel
  5. Stir in beaten egg whites and 1 cup of grated cheese and toss lightly, being careful not to break the noodles.

    Egg stirred into cooked pasta
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel

Assemble the Pastitsio

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Pasta and meat sauce for pastitsio
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel 
  2. Brush the bottom and sides of a lasagna pan with olive oil. Layer the bottom with half the pasta noodles and press down so that they are somewhat flat.

    Pan brushed with olive oil and loaded with pasta
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel 
  3. Add the meat filling in an even layer.

    Meat layer added on top of pasta layer
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  4. Top with remaining pasta noodles and flatten top layer as best you can.

    Last pasta layer on top for pastitsio
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 F while you prepare the béchamel sauce.

Prepare the Béchamel Sauce

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for béchamel sauce
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel 
  2. Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat.

    Melting butter in a saucepan
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  3. Using a whisk, add flour to melted butter whisking continuously to make a smooth paste (called a roux). Allow the flour-butter mixture to cook for a minute, but do not let it brown.

    Flour added to melted butter in a saucepan
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  4. Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens but does not boil.

    Warmed milk added to sauce
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  5. Remove from heat and stir in beaten egg yolks and a pinch of nutmeg.

    Add nutmeg to béchamel
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  6. If sauce still needs to thicken, return to stove and cook over very low heat while continuing to stir. Béchamel should be thicker than gravy, but not quite as thick as pudding. 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 ready.

    Thickened béchamel sauce
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel

Bake the Pastitsio

  1. Pour the béchamel over the pasta noodles making sure to pour sauce down into the corners as well.

    Béchamel poured over pastitsio
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  2. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.

    Pastitsio sprinkled with Parmesan sauce
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  3. Bake in 350 F oven for approximately 45 minutes or until the top is a nice golden color.

    Pastitsio baked until golden brown
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  4. Serve and enjoy!

    Pastitsio square on a plate with parsley garnish
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel

Recipe Variation

  • If you cannot find the No. 2 macaroni made for pastitsio, you can substitute ziti or penne. If you are using penne, cut it to look like ziti since penne can flatten more than the long pastitsio noodles which tend to get twisted when layered. This recipe is best with 2 pounds of pasta but you can scale back to 1 pound if you prefer.