Pastitsio is a creamy, cheesy baked pasta dish that is sometimes called Greek lasagna. They're both baked pasta dishes, but pastitsio is traditionally made with large tubular pasta like bucatini or penne, not lasagna noodles. Bucatini is a long, slender and hollow noodle, something like a drinking straw made of pasta.
Pastitsio combines a meat and tomato sauce with the pasta and is topped with a thick béchamel sauce—pronounced bā-shə-ˈmel. The name derives from "pasticcio," which loosely translates to "hodgepodge."
How to Make Pastitsio
This is one of those dishes that's easy to brand as your own—you can shift quantities and ingredients to suit your family's tastes. Substitute mornay sauce for the béchamel or add sauteed onions to the tomato sauce. Use pasta shells instead of penne.
Your red sauce can be the recipe that's been in your family for generations, or you can make a standard sauce using tomatoes, red wine, minced garlic, a little cinnamon, thyme, and oregano—and don't forget the meat of your choice, which should be crumbled or minced. Bolognese sauce works very well with this dish, although traditional Greek chefs often skip the use of any herbs or spices so the pastitsio can stand on its own.
This isn't a complicated dish. Just boil the pasta, then make the red sauce and the béchamel. Layer everything in a baking dish as you would lasagna and bake for about an hour at 350 F. Let the pastitsio stand and settle for about 10 minutes before serving.
A pretty standard version of béchamel sauce calls for 1/2 cup butter, 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 4 cups milk and 2 large eggs. Melt the butter and whisk in the flour, salt, and pepper. Add the milk in small increments, still whisking, and bring the mixture to a boil for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring continuously until it thickens. Add a little of the mixture to the eggs and whisk it all together, then add the egg mixture back to the pan. There you have it—a classic béchamel sauce to top your pastitsio. Sprinkle cheese on top if you like, or add a little Parmesan or nutmeg to the dry béchamel ingredients.
Pastitsio is also a very popular dish in Cyprus where they often use ground pork rather than beef and haloumi cheese rather than béchamel. Egyptians have their own version of pastitsio, which they call macaroni béchamel. Some Greek versions substitute lamb for the beef.
Modern versions of pastitsio sometimes call for a little green in the mix—add half a cup of spinach, peas or green beans.
Pastitsio makes a wonderful, hearty one-dish meal—in fact, it's been called a Greek comfort food. Add a salad and some crusty bread and the meal is complete!
Pastitsio can be a great way to use leftover pasta, and, in fact, it makes for some great leftovers by itself. Some Greeks swear it's even tastier on the second day.