Pastitsio (Παστίτσιο)

Pastitsio (Παστίτσιο)
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NOTE:  We have 2 recipe boxes below.  The first recipe box is for a pan that is 11 x 16 inches; and the second recipe box is for a pan that is 9 X 13 inches.

We have 4 daughters between us and when they were pre-schoolers our parents cared for each of them while we returned to work after a blissful year or two of maternity leave.  Not only were our children embraced by papou and yiayia’s love every day, they were also exposed almost exclusively to the Greek language and their Greek heritage.  How special, and how blessed we all were! As if that weren’t enough, their bellies were filled daily with nutritious, home-cooked meals which were essentially made-to-order. If our daughters wanted to snack on milk and freshly made Greek cookies (koulourakia), our parents set to baking.  If they craved spaghetti, the water was boiling before they could even say “σε παρακαλώ” (please).  If they wanted chicken and there wasn’t any in the house, papou would run (practically) to the market to pick some up.  Nothing was too much trouble, and to this day, especially when it comes to their grand-daughters, nothing ever is.

Although each of our girls had her particular favourite, one meal which was often requested by all of them was, and still is, pastitsio.  It seems that their taste buds are similar to many of yours because since starting this blog a few short months ago, pastitsio is a recipe which many of you have requested as well.  So, here it is.  🙂

Pastitsio (sometimes spelled pastichio) is a layered, baked dish which includes pasta noodles, ground meat and a béchamel sauce.  It is a classic Greek meal, often invited to celebrations and large family gatherings.  It may seem complex, but like our moussaka, the different components involved are actually pretty simple.  And, as with moussaka, some of the steps, like boiling the noodles and preparing the meat sauce, can be done the day before, cutting down the prep time so that pastitsio can even make it onto your weekday menu plan.

Along with our love of pastitsio however comes a particular pastitsio pet peeve.  We cringe just a little whenever we hear pastitsio described as a Greek lasagna.  We know that lasagna is delicious, and many Greeks, including our parents, make lasagna…but pastitsio is not lasagna.  Sure, they both include pasta, and lasagna often includes ground meat, and they are both baked…but so what?  Pumpkins and carrots are both orange vegetables that can be turned into delicious soups, but you would never think to call a carrot a skinny, root pumpkin, would you?  Pastitsio is pastitsio, a dish so delicious, so beautifully its own, that it deserves to be referred to by it’s proper name.  Thanks 🙂

Helpful hints:

As you may notice when reading the recipes below (remember, there are two recipe boxes, for two different pan sizes of pastitsio), the meat sauce may appear very familiar. That is because it is essentially the same meat sauce recipe which is used for our parents’ spaghetti and meat sauce. What is great about this is that if you have meat sauce left over, you can boil some pasta the next day and have a different meal.  Or you can freeze the leftovers for a great last minute lunch option.  In fact, if you follow the recipe exactly as described, you will most definitely have meat sauce left over because our parents do not use all that is made for the pastitsio.  Why do they prepare more meat sauce than they need?  They figure that if they are going through the effort of making the meat sauce, may as well get two meals out of it.  They are very practical people.

Pastitsio (Παστίτσιο)

Although the pasta and meat sauce can be prepared ahead, the béchamel sauce really does need to be made the day you are planning to assemble and bake your pastitsio.  You will notice in the recipes which follow that our parents’ béchamel sauce contains no butter.  This is typical for their cooking, because for them, olive oil is gold and replaces butter in almost all recipes.  They also use 2% lactose free milk in their béchamel sauce (although you can use regular milk if you like) and so despite the many eggs, the resultant béchamel is light yet still incredibly flavourful.

Bechamel sauce
Bechamel sauce

In terms of technique, there are a few things which we feel are important to point out.  The first is that although it may appear counter-intuitive, the pasta you will boil should be boiled completely.  That is, do not under cook your noodles because you figure they will finish cooking in the oven once the pastitsio is assembled.  Second, we noted that our parents have a really neat trick which makes total sense!  After pouring the béchamel sauce over the second layer of pasta, our parents use a fork to repeatedly poke into the pan of pastitsio and they wiggle the fork around.  What this does is allow the béchamel to seep in between the noodles versus just settling on top.  Brilliant!

In terms of the pasta being used, pastitsio is actually quite particular in that you should, if at all possible (and most things are possible) use the tubular spaghetti meant for this dish; what we affectionately call long macaroni.  In fact, Greek brands of pasta sell noodles which are called Pastitsio and the ones we use are Pastitsio no. 2.  If you can’t find these noodles in your local grocery store, the great world of on-line shopping is definitely going to have them.

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The first recipe listed below was made for an 11 x 16 inch baking pan, but pastitsio is actually very versatile and very forgiving. If you have a smaller pan, don’t worry. You can easily half the recipe for a pan half the size ( for your convenience, we included a 2nd recipe box below, halving the recipe, to be used for a 9 x 13 inch pan).   Otherwise,  keep the quantities as they are for the larger pan and you’ll either be faced with enough ingredients to make that large pan of pastitsio, you’ll be able to make two smaller pans, or you’ll have leftovers.  Pastitsio component leftovers are super because any extra pasta and meat sauce can simply be served together for an easy meal.  As for the béchamel sauce, there are lots of different ways that you can use extras.  If you need some inspiration, check this out.

This recipe calls for aged mizithra which is a hard crumbly Greek cheese made with leftover whey from the production of other cheeses, which is then combined with either sheep or goat milk. If you can’t find it, be a little bit sad, and then substitute grated parmesan or romano cheese. Or, try to find it online.  Maybe it will be delivered at the same time as your pastitsio pasta!

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Pastitsio (Παστίτσιο)
Pastitsio (Παστίτσιο)
Pastitsio (Παστίτσιο)
Pastitsio (Παστίτσιο)
Pastitsio (Παστίτσιο)
Pastitsio (Παστίτσιο)

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Please note that the 1st recipe below was used for a very large pan: 11 X 16 inches, with a 4 inch depth.  If you’re using a more traditional size baking pan: 9 X 13 inches, please see the 2nd recipe box below.

Mia Kouppa: Pastitsio for 11 x 16 inch pan

  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

    Meat sauce 
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1300 grams of ground meat (mixture of veal and pork) (approximately 6 cups of ground meat)
  • 7 cups homemade tomato sauce or passata
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • Pasta

  • 900 grams of Greek pasta, Pastitsio No 2
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Béchamel

  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Greek olive oil
  • 2 liters milk
  • 7 eggs, beaten
  • Assembly

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons mizithra
  • 2 teaspoons mizithra to sprinkle on top of béchamel

Directions

    For the meat sauce and pasta
  • Finely chop one medium onion and cook it in 1/4 cup olive oil until softened.
  • Add the meat, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, cinnamon and 1/2 cup boiling water to the pot.  Cook for 45 minutes over medium heat, uncovered.
  • Meanwhile, boil a large pot of water.  Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt to the water. When the water has come to a boil, add the pasta. Cook as per package directions.  Despite the fact that this pasta will go into the oven when the pastitsio is baking, cook the noodles until they are edible (do not under cook).
  • Once pasta is cooked, drain and set aside.
  • For the Béchamel

  • Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over high heat.
  • Add flour and mix continuously so that flour does not burn and cook for approximately 2 to 3 minutes. You don’t want your flour to brown.
  • Slowly add 2 liters of milk and then slowly stream in 7 beaten eggs. You must stir this mixture constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk.
  • Cook béchamel sauce for about 10 minutes on medium-low heat, while stirring constantly, until it has thickened but is still easily poured. You can tell if your sauce is ready if it coats a wooden spoon and you can draw a line across it with your finger.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

    To assemble:

  • Take a 11 x 16 inch baking pan and grease it with 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
  • Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of mizithra on bottom of pan.
  • Layer half the pasta on the bottom of the pan.  Toss with 5 tablespoons of mizithra until evenly coated.
  • Using a slotted spoon, spread the meat mixture over the pasta.  The slotted spoon is important as your meat sauce will have a fair amount of liquid and you want to drain most of this off. You can use as much of the meat as you would like.  Our parents do not use all of the meat that results from this recipe. Instead, they ensure that there is a fine layer of meat covering all of the pasta as shown above, and they reserve the rest for another purpose.
  • Sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg on top of the meat.
  • Spread the rest of the pasta on top of the meat mixture and then top this layer of pasta with 1/2 cup grated mizithra.
  • Pour the prepared béchamel sauce over the pasta.  Use the back of a spoon to spread it evenly, ensuring that all of the noodles are covered with sauce.
  • Then, take a fork and insert it in several areas over the pastitsio and wiggle it around.  This will help the béchamel seep in between the top layer of the noodles.
  • Sprinkle the 2 teaspoons of mizithra on top of the béchamel.
  • Bake pastitsio on the top rack of your oven, uncovered, for approximately 50 minutes.  Keep an eye on your pastitsio.  You may want to turn your pan halfway through the cooking process if it is browning unevenly.  You may also want to set  your oven to broil for the last minute of baking in order to brown it more significantly on top.
  • Allow your pastitsio to cool for 20 – 30 minutes before serving.
  • Enjoy.


Pastitsio

This delicious Greek classic is a layered, baked dish which includes pasta noodles, ground meat and a béchamel sauce.
Prep Time1 hr 15 mins
Cook Time50 mins
Resting time25 mins
Total Time2 hrs 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Greek
Keyword: pastitsio, pastichio, bechamel, meat sauce
Author: Mia Kouppa

Equipment

  • 9 X 13 inch pan (3 Quarts)

Ingredients

Meat sauce

  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (30 ml)
  • 650 grams ground meat (mixture of veal and pork) approximately 3 cups or 1 1/2 pounds
  • 3 1/2 cups homemade tomato sauce, or store bought tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon heaping cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup boiling water

Pasta

  • 500 grams Greek pasta, Pastitsio No.2
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Bechamel

  • 1/4 cup Greek olive oil
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 liter milk
  • 4 eggs beaten

Assembly

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Greek olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons Greek mizithra cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Greek mizithra cheese to sprinkle on top of bechamel

Instructions

For the meat sauce and pasta

  • Finely chop 1/2 medium onion and cook in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until softened.
  • Add the meat, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, cinnamon and 1/4 cup boiling water to the pot.  Cook for 45 minutes over medium heat, uncovered.
  • Meanwhile, boil a large pot of water.  Add 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the water. When the water has come to a boil, add the pasta. Cook as per package directions.  Despite the fact that this pasta will go into the oven when the pastitsio is baking, cook the noodles until they are edible; do not under cook the pasta.
  • Once pasta is cooked, drain and set aside.

For the Bechamel

  • Heat olive oil in a heavy saucepan over high heat.
  • Add flour and mix continuously so that flour does not burn and cook for approximately 2 to 3 minutes. You don’t want your flour to brown.
  • Slowly add 1 liter of milk and then slowly stream in 4 beaten eggs. You must stir this mixture constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk.
  • Cook béchamel sauce for about 10 minutes on medium-low heat, while stirring constantly, until it has thickened but is still easily poured. You can tell if your sauce is ready if it coats a wooden spoon and you can draw a line across it with your finger.

To assemble

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. You will bake on center rack.
  • Take a 9 X 13 inch baking pan and grease it with 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  • Sprinkle about 1/2 tablespoon of mizithra on bottom of pan
  • Layer half the pasta on the bottom of the pan.  Toss with 2 1/2 tablespoons of mizithra until evenly coated.
  • Using a slotted spoon, spread the meat mixture over the pasta.  The slotted spoon is important as your meat sauce might have a fair amount of liquid and you want to drain most of this off. You can use as much of the meat as you would like but be sure that there is a fine layer of meat covering all of the pasta, as shown above.
  • Sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg on top of the meat.
  • Spread the rest of the pasta on top of the meat mixture and then top this layer of pasta with 1/4 cup grated mizithra cheese.
  • Pour the prepared béchamel sauce over the pasta.  Use the back of a spoon to spread it evenly, ensuring that all of the noodles are covered with sauce.
  • Then, take a fork and insert it in several areas over the pastitsio and wiggle it around.  This will help the béchamel seep in between the top layer of the noodles.
  • Sprinkle the 1 teaspoon of mizithra on top of the béchamel.
  • Bake pastitsio on the center rack of oven, uncovered, for approximately 50 minutes.  Keep an eye on your pastitsio.  You may want to turn your pan halfway through the cooking process if it is browning unevenly.  You may also want to set  your oven to broil for the last minute of baking in order to brown it more significantly on top
  • Let sit for 20-30 minutes before cutting and serving.
  • Enjoy!

Notes

You can use any type of milk you'd like.. we like to use Lactose Free milk 2%
You can substitute Greek Mizithra cheese, by using parmesan and Romano cheese

29 thoughts on “Pastitsio (Παστίτσιο)

    1. Hi there, omg I love your site.

      I made the melomakarina recipe last week so delicious had every one asking for the recipe.😀

      I am going to attempt to try your Pastichio recipe. I have noticed you don’t add butter in the bechamel sauce. Is this correct? Most bechamel sauces I have googled add butter.

      Can you let me know asap as I’m excited to make it.

      Have a wonderful day!

      Cheers
      Kathy

      1. Hi Kathy!! Thanks so much for letting us know that our melomakarona recipe was a hit! We’re so happy to hear that 🙂 As for the pastichio, you are right…there is no butter to be found in the recipe! You may notice that many of our recipes, particularly those that come from our parents, do not have butter. Our parents use olive oil in almost all their recipes, and this includes in their bechamel. We love the way it turns out – light but still creamy and thick. You’ll also notice that our pastichio post actually includes two versions of the recipe; one for a “regular” sized pan, and another for a much larger pan. Scroll through the post to use the one that is best for you. Hope you enjoy the pastichio and we would love to hear back from you!

      2. Thank you for your reply.
        Will definitely make it and let you know how it turns out 😀

  1. Hiya, This trick makes a difference •
    Then, take a fork and vertically insert it in several areas over the pastitsio and wiggle it around. This will help the béchamel seep in between the top layer of the noodles.
    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
    I made the recipe using a meat replacement since I did not have meat: finely ground tofu, almonds and mushrooms : browned and it was delicious. Next time will make with meat. Best bechamel recipe I ever made – easier than I had thought to make. Lovely recipe. Next time will make over 2 days. Thxs for sharing.

    1. Glad to hear it Marina! Great way to use what you have handy… I am sure it was delicious… Stay tuned… within the next couple of months, we will try and post a Vegetarian version of Pastitio… 🙂

  2. it’s too much work to make extra sauce i won’t use. can you please give measurements for amounts needed for just this recipe?

    1. Hi there! Thanks for your interest in Mia Kouppa. Totally understand about the extra sauce; in fact, we were concerned that readers might find it an extra unnecessary expense for this meal, but didn’t really consider the extra work. We’ll take a look at the recipe and see if we can figure out if simply halving it would be sufficient. Thanks 🙂

  3. Hello! My mom was Greek & made pastitsio regularly. I learned to make it as a teen & It was a hit always until many years later when our shrimp & roast beef-loving daughter became a vegetarian. Not skipping a beat, I substituted Morningstar Farms Crumbles for ground beef & carried on. It was-and is fantastic! I highly recommend it for all vegetarians yearning for the comfort & flavor of Greek cooking!

  4. Hi the recipe says I need 900g pastitsio no2 pasta. Is that measures uncooked or cooked? I have the Misko #2 pasta and each package is 500 grams. Thanks!

    1. Hi Helen! Sorry for the delay. We’ve been at the Saveur Blog Conference and were kept a little busy. The weight of the pasta is uncooked, so if would be a pack and a half (approximately) for you.

      1. Hi I love this recipe. You make a dish that is often “ intimidating “ to those that have never made, look easy.
        Excellent work!!
        I am saving your recipe.
        Thank you.

      2. Hi Eleni! Thank you so much for your message, and we’re so happy that you are saving our recipe. We try hard to demystify some of the more “complicated” recipes, so that they are more palatable 🙂 We do hope you give it a try and would love to hear how you enjoy it!

  5. I’m confused about the amount of milk in the bechamel sauce – the ingredients list 2 litres but the instructions say to add 1 litre??

    1. Hi Effy! I think we responded to you on Instagram (or Facebook)…but in case we didn’t this particular post has 2 recipes within it; one for a larger pan, and one for a smaller pan.

  6. I LOVE YOUR SITE!

    My parents live in Florida and I don’t get mom’s Greek cooking often enough. I have been craving pastitsio and will be making this recipe to try and WOW my Greek friends 🙂 Can I bake it the day before I want to serve it and reheat it before my dinner guest arrive? Again, thanks for all the great receipes! Yassou!

    1. Thank you so much Catherine!! We are so happy that you have found us, and are enjoying our recipes. You can absolutely make the pastitsio ahead of time, keep it in the refrigerator, and reheat it in the oven on the day that you will serve it. We hope that you and your guests love it as much as we do! xoxo

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