Pastitsio – Baked Pasta with Meat and Bechamel Topping

Meat sauce (enough for casserole + leftovers):
  • -1 large onion, chopped
  • -3 garlic cloves, minced
  • -1 lb. lean ground meat (I used half 90/10 beef, half ground pork. Meatloaf mix or all beef would also be fine)
  • -1 (16 oz.) can diced tomatoes with juice
  • -1/2 can tomato paste (about 2 Tbsp.)
  • -1/4 c. chopped pitted kalamata olives
  • -1 tsp. salt (add more to taste)
  • -1/2 tsp. ground black pepper (or to taste)
  • -2 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
  • -3 bay leaves
  • -1/2 c. red wine
  • -1 cinnamon stick, or 1/3 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • -2 springs fresh thyme, stemmed, or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • -1 anchovy, minced (optional, but good)
  • -3 whole cloves (in a tea ball/sachet), or 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • -1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • -1 tsp. soy sauce
  • -2 tsp. brown sugar
  • -olive oil

  • -1 lb. rigatoni or penne pasta
  • -6 Tbsp. melted butter
  • -2 c. whole milk
  • -2 eggs, beaten
  • -1/2 c. grated Parmesan (or Romano) cheese

Bechamel sauce:
  • -6 Tbsp. butter
  • -1/3 c. flour
  • -4 c. milk
  • -1 tsp. salt
  • -1/8 tsp. pepper (preferably white)
  • -1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • -3 eggs

For scattering:
  • -1/2 lb. grated Parmesan (or Romano) cheese, divided
  • 1. Meat Sauce: In a large pot, saute onion until in olive oil until lightly browned; add garlic and meat and brown. Add remaining meat sauce ingredients and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. (Or, pour sauce into crock pot and cook on low 6-10) hrs. Remove and discard cloves, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves. If sauce looks watery, ladle out a bit of the juice and discard. Puree sauce lightly with a stick blender, if desired.
  • 2. Pasta: Boil until barely al dente in well-salted water. Strain. In the empty pasta pot, melt butter. Remove from heat, add pasta, milk, 1/2 c. cheese, and eggs. Gently stir to coat and set aside. Preheat oven to 350F.
  • 3. Bechamel sauce: melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking for 2 minutes. Gradually add in 4 c. milk, stirring, until thickened (it will look thin for a while, but keep going). Lower heat, add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Remove from heat.
  • 4. In a large bowl, beat 3 eggs. VERY slowly add cupfulls of cream sauce to eggs. Stir thoroughly so eggs don’t curdle. A second pair of hands helps a lot at this stage.
  • 5. Butter or oil a 13×9-in. baking pan.
  • 6. Pour 1/2 of the noodle mixture over bottom of pan. Cover evenly with 2-3 c. of meat sauce (you will have leftovers; add only about as much as you would for lasagne—too much and your pastitsio might fall apart).
  • 7. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese over meat sauce. Add remaining pasta mixture, spreading evenly. Sprinkle another 1/3 of the cheese over top.
  • 8. Pour bechamel sauce evenly over entire casserole, leaving about 1/4-in. space to the top rim. You could have as much as 1/2 c. bechamel sauce left over.
  • 9. Top casserole with remaining cheese.
  • 10. Bake uncovered @ 350F until bechamel sauce sets and is lightly browned, approx. 1 hr. Cool at least 15 minutes before cutting.