Pastitsio – Greek Comfort Food

What is Pastitsio?

Pastitsio consists of luscious layers of pasta, seasoned ground meat and a creamy Béchamel sauce baked to perfection. Pastitsio is Greek comfort food at its finest!

The three essential components of Pastitsio – pasta, meat filling and a creamy Béchamel sauce – are layered in a baking pan and baked until golden brown. The bottom layer can be any tubular-shaped pasta (I used rigatoni, but penne or any tubular-shaped pasta will do); the middle layer can be ground beef, ground turkey, ground lamb or ground veal spiced with cinnamon and mixed with tomato sauce; and the top layer is Béchamel sauce, which is a white sauce made with milk plus two eggs in this particular recipe.

I first tasted Pastitsio in the early 1980’s when a friend invited me to go to a Greek Festival at a church in the greater Boston area. From my very first bite I thought Pastitsio was fantastic! Since then I’ve attended Greek Festivals in Columbia, South Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina and I always enjoy the Pastitsio every time! If you’re ever near a Greek Festival, I’d encourage you to go and sample the Greek food. It’s great!

The Recipe

Pastitsio
Serves 8
Luscious layers of pasta, seasoned ground meat and a creamy Béchamel sauce baked to perfection!
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 30 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 30 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 cups pasta, dry (preferably tubular-shaped such as penne, rigatoni, etc.)
  2. 3 tablespoons butter
  3. 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shredded and divided
  4. 1 1/2 lbs. ground meat (your choice)
  5. 1 medium onion, chopped
  6. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  7. 1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
  8. 1 teaspoon salt
  9. 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  10. 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  11. 1/2 cup butter
  12. 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  13. 4 cups milk
  14. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  15. 2 eggs
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta per package directions. Drain. Toss cooked pasta with 3 tablespoons butter and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.
  2. Cook ground meat, onion and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring until meat crumbles and is no longer pink; drain off any grease.
  3. Stir in tomato sauce, 1 teaspoon salt, cinnamon and pepper.
  4. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour, cook, whisking constantly for 1 minute.
  5. Whisk in milk; cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and bubbly. Add 1/2 teaspoon and remove from heat.
  6. Whisk eggs until thick and pale. Whisk about one-fourth of the white sauce mixture into the eggs.
  7. Add tempered eggs to remaining sauce, whisking constantly.
  8. Spoon pasta mixture into a greased 13" x 9" baking dish. Spoon meat mixture over the pasta; sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.
  9. Pour cream sauce over top of meat layer.
  10. Bake Pastitsio at 350 degrees F. for one hour or until golden.
Notes
  1. Serving suggestion: Salad, Green Vegetable, and Garlic Bread.
Adapted from Southern Living
Adapted from Southern Living
SILVER FOODIE http://www.silverfoodie.com/

Preparation Steps


Each of the three layers that compose Pastitsio require a little time so I would plan on thirty minutes for total preparation. This may sound like a lot of time but believe me it is so worth it when you taste the Pastitsio! I know you know how to cook pasta and brown meat so I’m just going to show you how the Pastitsio is assembled for baking.

First layer – spoon the pasta mixture (pasta, butter and Parmesan cheese) into a greased 13″ x 9″ baking dish.

Second Layer – Spoon meat mixture over the pasta layer.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese over meat layer.

Third Layer – Pour the Béchamel sauce over the meat layer.

Bake Pastitsio for 1 hour or until golden on top at 350º F.

Parting Comments

Béchamel sauce is simply a white sauce made from butter, flour and milk. In Pastitsio, eggs are added to the sauce for additional richness and flavor. The reason for stirring a small amount of sauce into the eggs is to “temper” the eggs. If the eggs were added to the entire amount of sauce at once, the result would be scrambled eggs. By adding a small amount of sauce to the eggs first, the temperature of the eggs is raised and they may then be added into the larger amount of sauce without the worry of scrambled eggs.

The use of cinnamon in a savory dish may be new to you – I know it was to me when I first tried it in a recipe for Beef Brisket some years ago. I was surprised at the flavor of cinnamon with meat because in the US we usually think of cinnamon as a spice to be used in sweet items, like cinnamon rolls or apple pie. In the Mediterranean and the Middle East, cinnamon is often used to spice meat dishes. Check out the recipe for Beef Biryani, an Indian dish, if you like the flavor of cinnamon with beef. (I actually like it so well that I use 1 teaspoon of cinnamon in Pastitsio when I make it.)

Cinnamon has been around at least since 2000 B.C. when Egypt imported it from other countries. Cinnamon has antioxidant and antibacterial properties and may be of benefit to our health. The addition of cinnamon adds enjoyment to various foods, especially for those people with a decreased sense of taste.

I hope you’ll make Pastitsio for your family and friends soon! They’ll thank you for it!

Remember to Savor the Flavor!

Janet

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3 Captivating Recipes with Cranberries

Cranberries 

Cranberries are captivating with their beautiful ruby-red hues and their unique tangy taste!  Even though 20% of all cranberries are eaten at Thanksgiving, that doesn’t mean that they only enhance turkey dinners!  Cranberries are so versatile that you can eat them in one form or another all throughout the day. For those of us over 60 with some loss of our sense of taste cranberries add a nice tart flavor to any food to which it’s added.

A Few Interesting Facts About Cranberries

Did you know that:

  1. 95% of all cranberries are processed into juice?
  2. Cranberry sauce was the first commercially processed food product?
  3. Cranberries in the US are grown mainly in Wisconsin and Massachusetts?
  4. Good cranberries bounce?
  5. Cranberries are not grown in water?
  6. Cranberries are grown in marshes or bogs and water is brought in at harvest time to float the cranberries to the surface for easier harvesting?

    The Recipes

Today I’d like to share with you 3 delectable recipes featuring captivating cranberries.  First, let Cranberry Almond Muffins start your day in a most delicious way!

These muffins are made by mixing together the dry ingredients, then mixing together the wet ingredients, combining the wet and dry ingredients, adding the cranberries and portioning the batter into muffin tins.  (See photos below.)


Cranberry Almond Muffins
Yields 12
Almond extract and almonds perfectly balance the tanginess of cranberries in this wonderful muffin!
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
22 min
Total Time
32 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
22 min
Total Time
32 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  2. 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  3. 3/4 cup sugar
  4. 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  5. 1 teaspoon salt
  6. 1 large egg
  7. 1/2 cup milk
  8. 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  9. 1 teaspoon almond extract
  10. 1 2/3 cup whole cranberries
  11. Topping: 1 tablespoon butter, cut into 12 cubes
  12. 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  13. 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  14. 2 teaspoons sugar
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix flours, sugar, baking powder and salt together.
  2. Whisk together egg, milk, melted butter and almond extract.
  3. Fold liquid ingredients into dry ingredients. Stir in cranberries.
  4. Put batter into greased muffin tins or tins lined with baking cups.
  5. Top each muffin with butter, sugar, cinnamon and almonds.
  6. Bake 22 minutes or until muffins test done with a toothpick.
Notes
  1. These muffins would be wonderful on Christmas morning!
SILVER FOODIE http://www.silverfoodie.com/

The next recipe, Cranberry Coffee Cake, also features the combination of cranberries with almonds and almond extract.  The batter is prepared in a mixer by creaming the sugar and butter together, and then adding the eggs. The dry ingredients are added alternately with the addition of sour cream to the batter.

Into a greased tube pan or Bundt pan, half of the batter is poured and topped with cranberry sauce and chopped nuts.  The remaining batter is added on top of this layer and again topped with cranberry sauce and chopped nuts.  A knife or spatula is used to swirl the cranberry sauce through the batter.

The Cranberry Coffee Cake is baked for 55 minutes, and then allowed to cool before glazing with a confectioner’s sugar, water and almond extract glaze.

Cranberry Coffee Cake
Serves 12
A fragrant coffee cake with swirls of cranberry sauce and nuts! Sour cream adds richness to the batter and almond extract adds another layer of flavor.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
55 min
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
55 min
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 stick (1/4 lb.) butter
  2. 1 cup sugar
  3. 2 eggs
  4. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  5. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  6. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  7. 1 cup (1/2 pint) sour cream
  8. 1 teaspoon almond extract
  9. 1 8-oz. can whole cranberry sauce
  10. 1/2 cup chopped nuts
  11. Glaze: 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar, 1 tablespoon warm water and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Instructions
  1. Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer. Add unbeaten eggs one at a time, beating after each addition, on medium speed. Mix dry ingredients and add alternately with sour cream. Add flavoring. Grease a tube pan or Bundt pan. Pour a layer of batter on the bottom, then swirl some cranberry sauce over the batter and sprinkle on some nuts. Add more batter, more cranberry sauce, the remaining batter and remaining cranberry sauce. Swirl the cranberry sauce into the
  2. batter with spatula or knife. Sprinkle with nuts. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 55 minutes or until cake tests done with a toothpick. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then turn onto rack to cool or serve. If desired drizzle with glaze. Mix confectioner's sugar, warm water and almond extract together and drizzle over partially cooled coffee cake.
SILVER FOODIE http://www.silverfoodie.com/

The third recipe, Cranberry Meatballs, could be made into smaller cocktail meatballs for an appetizer.  These meatballs are so yummy!  The ingredients are combined and formed into walnut-sized meatballs and placed into a 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking dish.

The topping ingredients are mixed together and poured over the meatballs.

The meatballs are baked for 30-40 minutes and the yield is 24 meatballs.  We enjoyed the meatballs with rice and Honey-Glazed Carrots (click here for Honey-Glazed Carrots recipe).

Cranberry Meatballs
Serves 6
Delectable meatballs made with ground beef and rice and topped with a cranberry, brown sugar and lemon juice sauce!
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
55 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
55 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 pound ground beef (ground turkey would also work)
  2. 1 cup cooked rice
  3. 1/2 cup ketchup
  4. 1 egg, beaten
  5. 1/4 cup onion, minced
  6. 1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
  7. 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  8. Topping: 1 14-oz. can whole cranberry sauce
  9. 1/3 cup brown sugar
  10. 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Instructions
  1. Mix all ingredients (except the last three) and form into walnut-sized meatballs. Place in a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish. Combine last 3 ingredients and pour over the meatballs. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30-40 minutes, until meat is done.
Notes
  1. This recipe can be used for cocktail meatballs if made smaller in size.
SILVER FOODIE http://www.silverfoodie.com/

Cranberries are usually only available in the fall so if you want to have cranberries on hand year round buy them now and freeze them for later use.

If you’d like to make your own cranberry sauce, click here for How to Make Homemade Cranberry Sauce.

Cranberries are unique in that they combine with many different flavors very well.  Serve one of these recipes to your family and friends soon and they will be captivated by cranberries!

Remember to Savor the Flavor!

Janet

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Glazes as Flavor Intensifiers

In relation to food, a glaze is an element that covers a food with a smooth, shiny coating or glossy finish.  Glazes are also great flavor intensifiers, often the “icing on the cake,” pun intended.  Consider the difference in a baked ham without a glaze and one that has been … Continue reading →