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Nikki’s Perfect Pastitsio

My mother used to work so hard in the kitchen to make this classic Greek dish, and the results were always well worth her effort. My recipe for pastitsio is easier, a bit lighter and every bit as great as Mom's.—Nikki Tsangaris, Westfield, Indiana
  • Total Time
    Prep: 45 min. Bake: 50 min.
  • Makes
    12 servings

Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 cups uncooked penne pasta
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1-1/2 pounds ground sirloin
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
  • BECHAMEL SAUCE:
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 cups 2% milk
  • 2 large eggs, beaten

Directions

  • Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Toss with butter; add grated Parmesan cheese. Transfer to a greased 13x9-in. baking dish.
  • Preheat oven to 350°. In a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat 8-10 minutes or until beef is no longer pink, breaking beef into crumbles; drain. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes longer. Stir in tomato sauce, salt and cinnamon; heat through. Spoon over pasta. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.
  • In a large saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until smooth; gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir 1-2 minutes or until thickened.
  • In a small bowl, whisk a small amount of hot mixture into eggs; return all to pan, whisking constantly. Bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir 2 minutes. Pour over beef mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  • Bake, covered, 20 minutes. Bake, uncovered, 30-40 minutes longer or until golden brown.

Test Kitchen Tips
  • To save time and avoid dirtying a dish, feel free to skip the draining step after cooking the beef and onions. The sauce will be slightly richer, but sirloin is fairly lean so there shouldn't be much fat in the pan.
  • Whisk constantly when adding milk to the roux (the flour and butter mixture). The whisk will help break up any lumps of flour so your sauce is silky smooth.
  • This recipe makes a mountain, which is great if you're having a big gathering or just want lots of leftovers. But you can easily scale this recipe down to a more manageable size by cutting it in half.
  • The addition of warm spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice is a defining characteristic of pastitsio (which, incidentally, translates to "hodgepodge"). If you want to test the waters first, try adding half the amount of cinnamon called for in the recipe.
  • Nutrition Facts
    1 piece: 332 calories, 18g fat (10g saturated fat), 98mg cholesterol, 718mg sodium, 24g carbohydrate (6g sugars, 1g fiber), 20g protein.

    Reviews

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    Average Rating:
    • Jennifer
      Sep 21, 2020

      This was good but I agree with those who stated that there is too much Bechamel sauce. It overpowered the dish and Bechamel by itself is bland tasting - even with the addition of nutmeg. The pasta sauce with the cinnamon is delicious and I added a tsp of oregano to punch up the flavor. If I choose to make this again, I will cut down the Bechamel by half. For those wondering, after baking, I let the dish sit uncovered at room temperature, and when I went to serve it, it was still piping hot.

    • Victoria
      Sep 9, 2020

      Hi! I have a few questions, when letting this dish set, do you leave it in the oven or outside the oven? Do you cover it with foil while it’s setting or uncovered? I’m am worried that letting it set for 30 minutes will make the pastitso cold when I serve it, any tips?

    • Ace
      Sep 8, 2020

      This is a winner at my house!!!! The only thing I changed was only have the cinnamon and I only had 1% milk. ?? Yummy Thank you

    • Carly
      Jun 27, 2020

      This was a huge hit with my Greek in laws! I added some oregano to the beef mixture, used more pasta, and added a pinch of nutmeg to the bechamel but otherwise followed it as written. Will definitely make again!

    • AKEmily
      Jun 20, 2020

      This was so good I wanted to cry! Or at the very least go back for seconds. Out of a family of five, four of us loved it. My pickiest daughter was thrown off by the cinnamon in the beef, but I was happy to try the authentic flavor of the dish.

    • Jennifer
      Oct 31, 2019

      Delicious! My family loved it. I was about to say that I followed this recipe to a T, but now I realize I used an entire box (1 lb.) of penne pasta, not the 2.5 cups dry stated (which might be around 1 lb.; I dunno). Also, I used tomato puree (that comes in a bottle) rather than canned tomato sauce, but I think that's basically the same thing so I don't think it qualifies as a deviation from the original recipe. ANYWAY, after reading a few reviews I was really worried there would be too much bechamel, but in the end everything fit perfectly to the tippy-top of my 13 x 9 baking dish (even with the full 1 lb. of penne). No Sauce Left Behind. (As with making any bechamel, you have to let it sit a bit after cooking so that it can thicken even more. I saw one reviewer say the bechamel was "custardy" after adding the egg, but you won't have that problem if you follow the directions and temper the eggs first by gradually whisking in a couple tablespoons of the warm bechamel into the eggs before adding the eggs to the balance of bechamel.) All that aside, the "45 minute prep time" is spot on, but I found it really fun to make this dish. My husband requested baked ziti, and I wanted to try a new recipe, so after some clicking around I discovered pastitsio, which I'd never heard of. It's not exactly baked ziti, but it was baked ziti-ish enough for the husband to concede to try it--and he loved it! I will definitely, definitely make this again--tho maybe next time I will use ground lamb instead of beef (just to see what that's like) and grate some nutmeg into the bechamel. Thank you for a great, thoughtful recipe that is going right into my recipe files! :)

    • bgsspecialkitty
      Sep 29, 2019

      No comment left

    • djsgrandma
      Feb 15, 2019

      Excellent recipe! I used regular elbow macaroni (pasta) instead of penne, because that's what I had on hand. A mixture of half ground beef / ground pork worked beautifully, again, because that's what I had on hand! (I guess I didn't plan very well). Anyway - my nieces and nephews LOVED the pastitsio. None of them had tried it before, so there was no comparing it to previous experiences. Like other reviewers, next time I will reduce the amount of bechamel sauce by half - more personal preference than anything else. I made the meat sauce the day before which helped with meal prep timing. Thanks for a good recipe.

    • Elaine
      Nov 7, 2017

      Made it and was good except it needed seasoning in tomato meat mixture like oregano. It made alot for two so froze half of it and having for dinner tonight.

    • jdphotog
      Jul 10, 2017

      I just ordered pastitsio from our favorite Greek tavern and had to make a copycat at home. This tasted pretty darn close! The only thing I will change is reduce the bechamel by half. It makes SO much that it did not form together very well - it almost took on a custard-y look and feel under the top layer, which browned nicely (although it still tasted unreal). You have to add the 1/2 t cinnamon; otherwise it's not pastitsio! The flavor is subtle yet unmistakable. And I suggest making the noodles and meat one night and the bechamel the next - not only is it time consuming, it bakes for 40 minutes too!