Pastitsio (Παστίτσιο)

Pastitsio

Pastitsio (also Pastichio) is a classic Greek pasta bake made with pasta, meat sauce and topped with béchamel.


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.  When 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

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 its proper name.  Thanks 🙂

If you love pasta, we think you’d love our “Spanakopita mac and cheese”. Watch video below:

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. This is great because if you have meat sauce left over, you can boil some pasta the next day and have a different meal.  

You can also 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 from Misko.  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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This is our parents very BIG pan!

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

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Pastitsio
Pastitsio
Pastitsio
Pastitsio
Pastitsio

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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.

Pastitsio

Pastitsio

This delicious Greek classic is a layered, baked dish which includes pasta noodles, ground meat and a béchamel sauce.
5 from 8 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Greek
Prep Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Resting time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
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 ( 875 ml)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon heaping cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup boiling water ( 60 ml)

Pasta

  • 500 grams Greek pasta, we use Misko Pastitsio No.2 ( about 1 1/4 lbs)
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Bechamel

  • 1/4 cup Greek olive oil (60 ml)
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour (42 grams)
  • 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 ( 45 grams)
  • 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

Thanks for sharing!

51 Comments

  1. Kouzounas Kitchen says:

    Bravo! Nice to stumble across a Greek food blog. 🙂
    Cheers,
    Krystina Kalapothakos

    1. miakouppa says:

      Thank you so much! We love your blog too! Opa! to Greek cooking sites 😃😃

      1. Kouzounas Kitchen says:

        Thank you!!!! 🙂
        Lets do a collaborate soon too.

    2. 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. miakouppa says:

        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 😀

  2. cant wait to try. will let you know. am already planning

    1. miakouppa says:

      That sounds wonderful! Good luck, and yes, please us know

  3. 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. miakouppa says:

      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… 🙂

  4. michelabelle says:

    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. miakouppa says:

      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 🙂

  5. Julie Hegele says:

    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!

  6. Helen Loulakis says:

    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. miakouppa says:

      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. Dr. Eleni M.D. says:

        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. miakouppa says:

        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!

  7. Effy Kavoukis says:

    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. miakouppa says:

      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.

  8. Catherine Urbalejo says:

    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. miakouppa says:

      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

  9. This recipe looks delicious! I’d like to make it and am wondering how much of the meat sauce is typically used in the dish vs leftover? For example could I get by with about 1 lb/~500 g ground meat and 2.5 cups tomato sauce? Thanks!

    1. miakouppa says:

      Hi Kelly! Our post on pastitsio actually include 2 different recipes; one for a very large pan and one for a more “normal” family sized pan. If you opt for the smaller recipe, you really do need to use all of the meat sauce indicated. With the larger pan you could have about a cup or so of meat sauce left over – or not. Some people like to have their pastitsio with more meat sauce. Hope that helps.

  10. Evanthia Martin says:

    Is there a specific passata recipe you recommend for this? This was my husband’s favorite food my yiayia made so I am making my first attempt at it and want to get it as close to perfect as possible. Thank you!

    1. miakouppa says:

      Hi Evanthia, no, we don’t use a particular brand of passata sauce; you may use whatever you like. However, we do like to use Hunt’s tomato sauce in this recipe, if we don’t have any of our homemade sauce available. Hope this helps, and hope you love it 🙂

  11. Would kefalotiri cheese work in place of mizithra? How do the two cheeses differ?

    1. miakouppa says:

      It would definitely work. Mizithra is a whey cheese made from the milk of sheep, ewe or goat. There are actually 3 types of mizithra which are produced; a fresh and soft form, a sour form, and the one we use here with is the most aged and hard variation of mizithra (it’s often referred to as Anthotyros). It is salty and crumbly, making it great for grating. Kefalotyri is a yellow sharp flavoured cheese which is somewhat salty and made from sheep’s milk. Kefalotyri is also very easy to grate. Hope that is helpful! xox Helen & Billie

  12. Niki Coffem says:

    We moved to the gulf coast in 2017, alot of our belongings are still in storage. We went and looked for my cookbooks and recipe box that I had all the recipes I’ve made through out the years, one in particular was mom’s pastitsio recipe. yours is very close to hers if I’m not mistaken, I want to make this for Thanksgiving, I will be using 2#s of ground beef & 1# of venison. As far as the cheese goes, I would like to use a combination of Parmesan and Feta, How would that work??

    1. miakouppa says:

      Hi Niki!! Thank you for reaching out, and how wonderful to make pastitsio for Thanksgiving! So thrilled to be invited to your table 🙂 We think that the combination of parmesan and feta would work just fine. You can also use a combination of parmesan and grated romano cheese to substitute for the mizithra (that is what we would recommend as it is more in line with the taste / texture of grated mizithra). Let us know how it works out!! xoxo Helen & Billie

  13. Made a half recipe of this last night. My Greek neighbor gave me a portion for this weekend’s easter celebrations and I remembered how I had liked your version. Again, two great tips: poke holes to allow the bechamel to go down and don’t undercook the pasta.. Thank you.

    1. miakouppa says:

      So happy to hear that Marina!! Thank you for letting us know you love our pastitsio, and appreciate the helpful hints! xoxo Helen & Billie

  14. Eric Combe says:

    Hi there. Just making the pastitsio now. Did I need to brown the meat before adding it to the tomato sauce?

    1. miakouppa says:

      Nope! No need to brown the meat. Enjoy!

    2. miakouppa says:

      HI there! Sorry for the delayed response. No, you don’t need to brown the meat before adding it to the tomato sauce! xoxo Helen & Billie

  15. Sabina Mexis says:

    Hello – I love your site and love that you are Canadian. I made your pastitsio recipe a few days ago and it turned out great but I have a few questions / comments. I am a reasonably competent cook and have made lasagna many times. I found that the béchamel was the hardest part. It did not thicken for me until I turned up the heat under the pot, at which point it started to thicken nicely. However, at one point (it probably got too hot) the consistency of the sauce changed to a more granular “eggy” consistency. also, Even though I sprinkled a lot of cheese on top, I found the sauce to be rather bland. I think it would have benefitted from the addition of some cheese as well as salt, pepper and nutmeg. Any comments or suggestions to help me improve the béchamel would be appreciated.

    1. miakouppa says:

      Hi Sabina, Thanks so much for reaching out and apologies in the delay in getting back to you. Thanks for your kind words! The temperature of the bechamel is really important – it sounds like you started off not hot enough, and then too hot. As for the flavour, it is quite a mild bechamel. If you prefer a more pronounced flavour, feel free to add nutmeg, additional cheese, or anything else you would like. Enjoy! xoxo Helen & Billie

  16. I’ve perfected this over two tries, and my Greek friends compared my results (and other things I have made from this website) to their mothers/godmothers/grandmothers cooking, all of the above being unilingual Greeks! For me, this is the highest flattery, and I’ll be making it again this weekend for some guests (from Africa!). I have a historian’s love of all Hellenic culture, and I enjoy sharing in these traditions and then sharing them with others.

    I continue to be a super-fan of this website, and I have experimented with something new from it almost every week since I first heard of it last November (I had written you an email). I can’t tell you how wonderful life has been in my kitchen since then.

    Efcharisto, Billie and Helen!5 stars

    1. miakouppa says:

      Dear Sacha! Your message has honestly made our night! We are so thrilled (humbled, honoured) by your kind words and support. We work hard to only post recipes when we feel they are as perfect as we can make them, and we appreciate you taking the time to let us know that your efforts pay off! Thanks for inviting us into your kitchen, for sharing recipes with your friends, and for being part of our Mia Kouppa community! It means everything! xoxo Helen & Billie

  17. Hi! How much is 650grams in lbs? Thanks

    1. miakouppa says:

      Hi there Cindy. It is about 1 1/2 pounds. Enjoy! xoxo Helen & Billie

  18. How deep should the pan be?
    Thanks very much, love your recipes!5 stars

    1. miakouppa says:

      Hi Mary! So glad you are loving our recipes! The pan for the pastitsio should be 3 inches deep. Thanks for asking the question – we will be sure to update the post! xoxo Helen & Billie

  19. Janet L. Howard says:

    I only seen one recipe so I would assume that we just cut the recipe in half for a 9 x 13 pan.

    Thank you

    Janet L Howard

    1. miakouppa says:

      Hi Janet! Thanks for reaching out! You should be able to see both recipes (for both size pans) by scrolling through the entire post. Let us know if you still can’t find it 🙂 xoxo Helen & Billie

  20. Hi Mia,

    I’m making this recipe for the first time tomorrow and I was wondering if I can make the meat tonight ahead of time and store in the fridge to cut down the cooking time for tomorrow.
    Also, do I have to absolutely include eggs in the bechamel sauce or it there an option where I can keep it out?
    Thanks so much 🙂

    1. miakouppa says:

      Hi Sara, Hope this message is not too late getting to you! But yes, you can definitely make the meat ahead of time! In terms of the eggs, this particular bechamel really does need the eggs, however if you are interested in an egg-free bechamel sauce you can look up our vegan pastitsio or our vegan moussaka, and use the bechamel sauce we have in those recipes. We use no eggs and dairy free milk in those recipes. Enjoy! xoxo Helen & Billie

  21. Mary Karahalios says:

    Hi! Your recipes are always the best. I recently made your melomakarona which were delicious! I will try your pastitsio recipe this weekend but I only see one recipe. Are there still two recipes available for the two different size pans?

    1. miakouppa says:

      Hi Mary! Thank you so much – we are thrilled that you love our recipes 😉 It seems that there is only one recipe box for the pastitsio (the more normal size version in a 9 x 13 inch pan :)). Something must have happened when we migrated to our new site format – we will look into that! Hopefully the recipe which is currently available is okay for you. Enjoy! xoxo Helen & Billie

  22. So yummy. It was a great balance of pasta, meat sauce, and bechamel. I am very happy with this recipe. Next time, I think I will add some garlic to the meat sauce, increase the amount of bechamel, use a combo of olive oil and butter, and add nutmeg to the bechamel. These modifications are purely to suit my personal preferences rather than improving the recipe in general.5 stars

    1. miakouppa says:

      Hi there! We are so happy to know that you tried our recipe, and that you enjoyed it! Thank you for letting us know, and we hope that you continue to find much to love here with us! xoxo Helen & Billie

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