Greek Pastitsio recipe (Greek Baked Pasta with Bechamel Sauce) is undoubtedly one of the most famous and traditional Greek recipes. Mince meat sauce in-between layers of pasta topped by rich white creamy Bechamel sauce. Pastitsio is a rather lengthy dish to make, nevertheless, tasting the delicious combination of the creamy white sauce combined with the flavoursome mince meat within layers of baked pasta will make all the effort worth it!
Do not despair, simply follow the steps as indicated in my recipe and you will be rewarded with a delicious earthy pasta baked dish.
What is the difference between a Lasagna recipe and a Greek Pastitsio recipe?
One can say Pastitsio is the Greek version of Lasagna and in fact some people call Pastitsio as Greek Lasagna. Lasagna have layers and layers of flat pasta with mince meat in-between whilst Pastitsio has layer and layer of tubular pasta (once cooked and then baked) with mince meat sauce covered by a rich white creamy sauce.
Moreover, both of the sauces, the mince meat sauce and Bechamel sauce, are quite different to the ones in Lasagna. The thick and rich taste of Bechamel sauce in Greek Pastitsio contrasts the rather thin Lasagne sauce.
What is unique to this Greek Pastitsio (Baked Pasta with Bechamel Sauce)?
Greek Pastitsio is an earthy rustic dish combining pasta, mince meat in a rich red wine and tomato sauce along with a creamy white Bechamel sauce. It is though not just a simple combination of these ingredients. What makes Pastitsio unique and separates it from other pasta bakes and Lasagna is its structure and its layers. These distinctive layers are as follows:
- The outermost layer is that of the Bechamel Sauce
- Followed by a layer of cooked pasta
- Laying on top of mince meat in a rich red wine and tomato sauce
- The innermost layer is another layer of cooked pasta.
What are the secrets of Pastitsio?
There are many secrets to preparing this utterly delicious Greek Pastitsio.
Let’s start with the spices: salt, paprika, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice. Every dish is elevated with the correct seasoning. Surely, salt and black pepper are milestones of every traditional Greek dish. The addition here is, paprika, this sweet pepper we simply cannot have enough of in Thrace (Northern Greece).
Cinnamon leaves a spicy after taste and is perfect with beef as it balances the richness of the beef. It should be added early on in the cooking, ideally with the lid on, as it needs time to diffuse its flavour in the dish. Cinnamon also pairs perfectly with red wine.
Nutmeg not only has a warm, nutty flavour but also a distinct aroma. It is great for creamy white sauces like Bechamel as it is paired on Greek Pastitsio.
All spice, another warm and sweet spice pairs perfect with both cinnamon and mince.
Red wine is also another catalyst in this Greek Pastitsio and is added also early on in cooking, prior to adding all other liquids. Alcohol evaporates during cooking whilst its sweet and acidic flavour enhances the other flavours of the dish. Be mindful, though, not to be overjealous add large quantities of red wine, this will sadly result in the opposite result.
Another little secret is the addition of beaten egg whites in the cooked pasta. Egg whites bind the pasta together and in turn help the pasta be firm and act as a barriers to the Bechamel and mince meat sauce.
Which pasta can I use and why?
Greek Pastitsio is traditionally made of tubular pasta, a long thick wheat spaghetti with a hole running through its centre. This type of pasta can be easily found in every Greek deli shop.
One may ask why use this rather thick and hollow pasta and not any other spaghetti? The tubular pasta is strong enough not to allow mince to sip into the bottom and equally structured enough not to collapse and mix with the mince layer. It is also strong enough and acts as a barrier
Is there a method to cooking pasta for Greek Pastitsio?
Many have asked me if there is a method to cooking pasta for Greek Pastitsio. The first thing I advise is to make sure you have the correct type of spaghetti for the dish. The past used for this dish is a tubular past which is hollow in the middle. Start by boiling hot water and add eh past in the saucepan. The secret to cooking the pasta is cooking it less. I cook the pasta to Al Dente point. Bear in mind that the pasta will be further baked in the oven and thus Al Dente is all that is required.
What is Bechamel sauce and how can I make it?
Did you know that Bechamel sauce is made of flour, milk and butter alone? The sauce used in Greek Pastitsio is a version of Bechamel sauce as it incorporates egg yolks and sometimes cheese in addition to the main ingredients. The sauce is thus mistakenly called Bechamel sauce in Greek Pastitsio, though the white creamy sauce is closer to Mornay sauce. Mornay sauce is made of flour, egg yolks, milk, butter with the addition of cheese.
This delicious Bechamel like sauce is the outermost layer of Greek Pastitsio and covers the pasta layer.
It is an easy sauce to make so let’s start. I personally do not add cheese in my sauce, but you can if you want. I would recommend
Start by assembling and weighing your ingredients for the white sauce.
How can I prepare Pastitsio?
It may feel daunting to prepare Greek Pastitsio but rest assured you will be able to prepare a delicious Pastitsio by following the steps in my recipe.
The dish may be lengthy, but the more times you prepare it, the quicker and easier it will become. One you have made this delicious dish enough times, you will be able to multitask.
What do I mean by multitasking? Simply that there is no need to prepare one dish component after the other one. For example, there is no need to wait until you have prepared the mince meat to continue with the pasta and the Bechamel sauce.
Let’s start and prepare Greek Pastitsio!
I always start my Greek Pastitsio by making the mince meat sauce. Halfway through making this I start boiling the pasta. When the pasta is ready, I add the egg whites and Feta cheese to the pasta and set the pasta aside. When I have finished with the pasta, I move on to preparing the oven dish. I butter the dish and sprinkle crushed French toast (in kitchen blender). Once I have the oven dish ready, I continue by preparing the Bechamel sauce.
Now, let’s follow the each of the steps in making Greek Pastitsio in more detail.
I always start all my recipes by assembling and weighing all the ingredients in the kitchen counter. I also gather the utensils required so that I do not forget to use them and have them ready within grasp during cooking or baking.
Start by preparing the mince meat sauce which will take approximately 45 minutes. Over medium heat sauté the finely chopped onions. Season them with onion and stir. Lower the heat and continue by adding garlic and sugar (just a pinch) and stir. Add now tomato paste and continue to stir. Increase now the heat and add the mince in the pan. Break the mince into smaller pieces with a fork. Season the mince with salt, black pepper, all spice and cinnamon. It is now time to add red wine. Carry on by adding the tomatoes and bay leaves. Lower the heat, put the lid on and let it cook for 35 minutes. Do check the mince meat sauce to make sure you are happy with it.
Cook the tubular pasta 2-3 minutes less than that indicated in the packet. Drain the pasta and transfer it back to the saucepan. Add a little butter to the saucepan and toss the pasta. Beat an egg white with little water and it in the pasta along with Feta cheese.
For the Bechamel sauce, in a separate saucepan add butter. Once the butter has melted start adding flour whilst continuously stirring. Stir with a whisk for 2-3 minutes to avoid burning the flour. Continue by adding warm milk in small amounts and whisk. Do so until you have added all the milk. Carry on whisking for a further 1-2 minutes so that the sauce reaches a smooth finish. Add the egg yolks slowly and whisk. Finish with salt, white pepper and nutmeg. At this final stage you can add cheese should you wish to.
Greek Pastitsio Recipe (Baked Pasta with Bechamel Sauce)
For the pasta:
- 750gr pasta
- 3 egg whites
- 150gr Feta Cheese
- 40gr butter
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the mince meat:
- 800gr mince (beef and/or pork)
- 50gr olive oil
- 100ml water
- 2 large onions
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 100mls red wine
- 400gr tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 pinch of sugar
- 1 bay leave
- 1/2 teaspoon all spice
- 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
- Sugar (pinch)
For the Bechamel sauce:
- 850mls milk
- 150gr butter
- 160gr flour
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon salt
- White pepper
- cheese (optional)
For the oven dish:
- French toast
For this recipe you will need:
1 large frying pan, 1 large saucepan, 1 medium sized saucepan, 1 oven dish (30x22x7cm or 11.8x8.6x2.7 inches)
- Start every recipe by assembling and weighing all your ingredients as well as assembling your kitchen utensils.
For the mince meat:
- Finely chop the onions.
- Add oil in the pan and over medium heat sauté the onions for approximately 1 minute.
- Continue by adding paprika and stir for a minute or so.
- Lower the heat and add garlic, a pinch of sugar to the pan and stir for approximately 1 minute.
- Add tomato puree and continue to stir for another minute.
- Increase the heat and add mince meat in the pan. With the use of a fork break the mince into very small pieces. Continue to stir for another 5 minutes.
- Season the mince with salt, black pepper, all spice and cinnamon (optional).
- It is now time to add the red wine.
- Carry on by adding the tomatoes and bay leaves.
- Lower the heat to medium, put the lid on the pan and let the mince cook for 35 minutes approximately.
- Approximately halfway through (around 15 minutes or so) check if the mince requires water or not.
- The end result should be a thick mince meat sauce.
For the pasta:
- Add 2L of water and season with salt.
- Cook pasta for 2-3 minutes less than the packet indicates. Pasta should not be over boiled but rather Al dente. The reason being pasta will be baked in the oven for a further 45 minutes.
- Drain the pasta with a colander.
- In a small bowl, beat an egg white with 1 teaspoon of water for 1-2 minutes.
- Add butter in the saucepan before you transfer the drained pasta in it. Add also the beaten egg white along with Feta cheese and mix. Mix well enough so that the egg white and Feta cheese incorporate in the pasta.
- Put the lid back in the saucepan and let it rest for now.
For the Béchamel sauce:
- In a separate saucepan melt butter over high heat.
- Warm the milk up separately.
- As soon as the butter has melted add flour and stir continuously with a hand whisk. Whisk for 2-3 minutes so that the flour does not get burnt.
- Start adding the milk in small amounts and whisk. Do this until you have added all the milk.
- Continue whisking for a further 1-2 minutes.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the egg yolks slowly and season with white pepper, salt and nutmeg.
- Preheat the oven to 180 Celsius or 356 Fahrenheit.
- Butter an oven dish and powder with crushed French toast. The butter will deter the past from sticking the oven dish and the crushed French toast will absorb all the wonderful juices.
- Add 3 tablespoons of Bechamel sauce to the mince meat and stir until it is evenly distributed. The Bechamel sauce will thicken even more the mince meat and make it tastier.
- Start assembling your Greek Pastitsio dish.
- The innermost/ bottom layer is that of the pasta. Add the past in the bottom of the oven dish making sure the entire base of the oven dish is covered.
- Continue with the mince meat layer. Make sure the mince meat layer is even throughout.
- The third layer is that of pasta again. Make sure this layer of past is even throughout.
- The outermost layer is that the Bechamel sauce. Cover the pasta evenly with the Bechamel sauce. Poster the Bechamel sauce with crushed French toast and add small (1x1cm) butter cubes. You can also add cheese shavings to your liking.
- Bake Greek Pastitsio at 180 Celsius or 356 Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.
- Kali Orexi! Enjoy!