Pastitsio, A Greek Baked Macaroni

The traditional method of baking in Greece was to use a beehive-shaped oven called an avli built on the side of a house.  Those who couldn’t afford an oven would send their food to the local baker’s fourno (oven) for cooking.  Pastitsio, baked macaroni with meat sauce and white sauce, with its Italian-derived name but Muslim-derived baking technique of mixing meat and pasta, is a favorite dish for the Sunday of Apokreos, the week before Lent, when meat is typically eaten.  Pastitsio is also frequently found in tavernas and a recipe appears in every Greek cookbook.   This recipe is a combination of an old recipe from a Greek cookbook of the 1950s modified by the pastitsios I have had in Greece and loved so much.  A certain kind of pasta is used for this preparation and the Greeks call it “macaroni for pastitsio,” which is what the Italians call ziti lunghe or mezzani.

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Greek
Serves: 8
  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 cups hot milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 egg whites, whipped to form firm peaks, but not dry ones
  • Pinch plus 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1½ cups freshly grated kefalotyri cheese (substitute white cheddar if needed)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1½ pounds ground beef
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 cups crushed or chopped fresh ripe or canned tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 6 whole cloves, ground
  • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground allspice berries
  • 1 pound ziti lunghe or mezzani
  1. In a large saucepan, melt ½ cup (1/2 stick) butter over medium-high heat. Stir in ¼ cup flour and cook this roux until it begins to turn very light brown or golden, 6 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Whisk 2 tablespoons of the hot milk into the egg yolks. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk 2 cups of the hot milk into the roux. Return the saucepan to medium-low heat and cook a few minutes, stirring. Remove from the burner again and stir in 2 of the egg yolks and milk. Set aside.
  2. Make a thicker Béchamel sauce by following the instructions in step 1 using another ¼ cup (1/2 stick) of the remaining butter, the ½ cup remaining flour, the remaining 2 cups hot milk, and the remaining 2 egg yolks. Once the sauce is made, stir in the whipped egg whites, a pinch of the nutmeg, and ½ cup of the kefalotyri cheese.
  3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the onion until translucent, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring. Add the beef and brown with the garlic, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, cinnamon, the remaining teaspoon nutmeg, the cloves, and allspice and season with salt and pepper. Mix well, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until well blended and fragrant, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, salt abundantly, and add the pasta. Cook until very al dente. Drain.
  5. In a small skillet, melt the remaining ¼ cup butter; once it turns brown, pour over the pasta. Toss the pasta with the thin Béchamel from step 1; you just want the pasta coated not soggy with Béchamel, so you might not need to use it all.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  7. Butter a 9 x 11 x 2-inch baking or lasagna pan. Cover the bottom of it with half the pasta. Sprinkle with ¼ cup of the kefalotyri cheese. Pour the meat sauce over the pasta, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle with another ¼ cup of the kefalotyri. Cover with the remaining pasta, and sprinkle with another ¼ cup of the cheese. Cover the pasta with the thick Béchamel from Step 2. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup kefalotyri evenly on top. Bake until golden brown, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.


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