Ah, Pastitsio — it’s been on my radar to make for a long time. Sometimes referred to as a “Greek Lasagna,” Wikipedia tells us:
Pastitsio (Greek: παστίτσιο, pastítsio; [paˈstitsio]), sometimes spelled pastichio, is a Greek and Mediterranean baked pasta dish including ground beef and béchamel sauce in its best-known form. Pastitsio is a version of the Italian dish pasticcio di pasta.
The typical Greek version has a bottom layer that is bucatini or other tubular pasta, with cheese and egg as a binder; a middle layer of ground beef, veal or lamb with tomato and cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice; another layer of pasta; and a top layer of sauce, varying from an egg-based custard to a flour-based Béchamel or a Béchamel with cheese (known as Mornay sauce in France). Grated cheese is often sprinkled on top. Pastitso is a common dish, and is often served as a main course, with a salad.
I have a couple of different recipes for Pastitsio: a no-doubt authentic one in a Greek cookbook and one that is similar to it, yet a bit more accessible (Americanized measurements, etc.), in a casserole cookbook. But even by using extra-lean (93/7) ground beef or ground turkey and doing all one can to lighten up the traditionally rich béchamel sauce, it wouldn’t be what one would consider a healthy dish — and sauces such as béchamel take some time and skill to make.
So, I hadn’t been in any rush to make Pastitsio — while the recipe intrigued me and sounded yummy, I’d never eaten it before, so it’s not something I had cravings for.
Last Saturday, though, I was wanting something a bit different for supper. I felt a bit like puttering about in the kitchen, but I didn’t want to spend hours in the kitchen. And that’s when I stumbled across a simpler, healthier version of Pastitsio on the Kraft web site! The rich and more time-consuming béchamel sauce is replaced with a lighter, healthier, easier yogurt-based sauce. Inspired by this delicious recipe, I made my own take on it, and peoples, it was sooooooo yummy!
Vegetarians: Don’t despair! While you could substitute the meat with a favorite vegetarian meat substitute, I think this would make an outstandingly yummy dish by substituting the meat with eggplant: Peel the eggplant if desired, dice it, sprinkle it with some salt and let it drain a bit in a colander, then continue on as directed in the recipe and saute it in the skillet along with the onion. Or, you could substitute the meat with zucchini, yellow squash, and/or mushrooms — or a combination thereof — and have the totally yummy taste of pastitsio without the meat.
I made our Pastitsio with my favorite non-fat Stonyfield Greek yogurt (thank you, Mom, for turning me on to this yogurt!). Not all yogurts are created equal — make sure you check the ingredients so that you can avoid any added sugars or flavorings.
This recipe still takes a bit of time to make, but it’s not difficult and comes together relatively quickly. I made ours with extra-lean (93/7) ground beef because that’s what I had on hand, but ground turkey would work equally well, and lean ground turkey sausage (or reduced-fat pork sausage) could add a yummy something-something to it, as well.
Authentic? I doubt it. But yummy and healthy and chock full of magnificent flavors? Absolutely!! This has such a rich, yet comforting, flavor, you’ll make folks who think “healthy” means “tasteless” or “boring” change their minds after their first or second bites.
You’ll be drinking ouzo and air-playing a bouzouki while you dance in your kitchen! (Go on, give it a try — it’s fun!!)
Pastitsio (Serves 6 to 8)
- 2 cups (7 ounces) macaroni, cooked al dente and cooled slightly (NOTE: Ziti or penne would work, also)
- 1 pound extra-lean ground beef (or lean ground turkey or lean bulk sausage) (Vegetarians: See suggestions above)
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 can (14 -15 ounces) diced tomatoes (Mine were seasoned with basil, garlic, and oregano)
- 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste (I used paste seasoned with basil, garlic, and oregano)
- Couple splashes (2 or 3 tablespoons) red wine OR red wine vinegar
- Splash of Worcestershire sauce (Vegetarians: Leave out or use a substitute)
- Seasonings to taste: basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 cups milk (I used 1% milk)
- 1 tablespoon or so cornstarch (You won’t need this if you use whole or 2% milk)
- 1 to 1 1/4 cups plain, fat-free Greek yogurt (I used a bit more than a cup, and it made for a creamier sauce)
- Sprinkling of nutmeg
- 1/4 to a 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (Vegetarians: Use a vegetarian substitute or use another favorite white cheese)
1. Bring a pan of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook the 2 cups (7 ounces) of raw macaroni to al dente. Drain and let cool slightly.
2. Meanwhile, in a lightly oiled or sprayed non-stick skillet, brown meat and onion. (If you’ve used an extra-lean meat, there should be little to no fat to drain.) Deglaze pan with wine or red wine vinegar. Stir in UNDRAINED tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir in a splash of Worcestershire. Season to taste (basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, garlic powder, and/or onion powder) and let simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, uncovered or with a spatter lid, until sauce thickens (15 – 20 minutes).
3. Also meanwhile 😉 , in a medium-sized saucepan, melt butter. Stir cornstarch into milk (if using 1% or skim milk) and stir into saucepan with butter. Heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, until mixture begins to thicken somewhat, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
4. Stirring vigorously, whisk yogurt into the milk and butter mixture. Season to taste (but lightly!) with ground nutmeg (I just sprinkled a bit onto the surface of the mixture, stirred it in, smelled it, and added a bit more as warranted — the nutmeg flavor should be in the background, giving just a hint of scent and flavor.) Stir in cooked macaroni. (This was the point I decided to stir in a bit more yogurt, to give it a creamier, moister texture.)
5. Lightly spray, oil, or butter a 13″ X 9″ pan. Spread meat sauce and tomato mixture along the bottom of the pan.
6. Then, spread the macaroni and yogurt sauce layer over the meat sauce layer. Sprinkle with Parmesan (or other) cheese.
7. Bake at 350F until bubbly and browned, 45 to 60 minutes. Let rest for 15 minutes or so before serving. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.