Greek Pastitsio: Baked Pasta With Meat and Bechamel

Pastitsio, Greek macaroni, meat and tomato dish baked with bechamel sauce, served on a plate, view from above
Clive Streeter / Getty Images
Ratings (52)
  • Total: 90 mins
  • Prep: 45 mins
  • Cook: 45 mins
  • Yield: 24 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
509 Calories
29g Fat
38g Carbs
22g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 24 servings
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.

Three essential components make up this dish—pasta, meat filling, and a creamy bechamel sauce—which are layered in a pan and baked to a golden brown. Each stage will require dirtying some pots and pans, but the end result is well worth the cleanup!

Ingredients

  • For the Meat Filling:
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 lbs. ground beef (or ground lamb, or a mixture of both)
  • 1 large yellow onion (chopped)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 (14-oz.) can tomato puree (or sauce)
  • 3 tbsp. fresh parsley (chopped)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp. breadcrumbs
  • For the Pasta:
  • 1 (500-g.) pkg. No. 2 Macaroni for pastitsio (available at Greek or ethnic groceries)
  • 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)
  • A pinch of 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.

  2. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan.

  3. Add ground beef and cook over medium-high heat until the pink color disappears, about 5 minutes.

  4. Add onions and cook until they are translucent, about 5 minutes more.

  5. Add wine, tomato sauce, parsley, allspice, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and allow the sauce to simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.

  6. Stir breadcrumbs into meat sauce to absorb excess liquid; remove from heat.

Make the Noodles

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. While sauce is simmering, put water on to boil for pasta. Cook pasta noodles according to package directions and drain well.

  3. Rinse noodles in a colander under cold water to cool them slightly.

  4. Melt butter in pasta pot and return the cooked noodles to the pot.

  5. Stir in beaten egg whites and 1 cup of grated cheese and toss lightly, being careful not to break the noodles.

Assemble the Pastitsio

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  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.

  3. Add the meat filling in an even layer.

  4. Top with remaining pasta noodles and flatten top layer as best you can.

  5. Preheat the oven to 350 F while you prepare the béchamel sauce.

Prepare the Béchamel Sauce

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat.

  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.

  4. Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens but does not boil.

  5. Remove from heat and stir in beaten egg yolks and a pinch of nutmeg.

  6. If sauce still needs to thicken, return to stove and cook over very low heat while continuing to stir. 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 ready.

Bake the Pastitsio

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

  2. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.

  3. Bake in 350 F oven for approximately 45 minutes or until the top is a nice golden color.

  4. Serve and enjoy!

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.