The Chef Within
Casserole favorite – lamb pastitsio
I rarely advocate a particular recipe but for this post I’m making an exception. This is a recipe that I would periodically use at the restaurant and that I serve every once in a while to the family. Everyone eats it, even my grandchildren. It’s made with ground lamb which nobody seems to mind but you could certainly substitute ground beef and probably even ground pork, turkey or chicken. This is a Greek dish, reminiscent of lasagne, made with four primary components: penne pasta, a meat sauce, a white sauce and lots of cheese. It’s the perfect casserole to make ahead, freeze uncooked and then pull when a hearty dinner is needed. Here’s it is:
For the meat sauce:
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 pound ground lamb (or another ground meat, but the lamb is awesome!)
16 ounces chopped canned tomatoes, plus half a can of water
1/2 cup red wine or 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or more)
Saute onions and garlic in butter and then add ground meat and break down into small pieces. Add tomatoes – pepper and allow to simmer until quite thick.
1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente
4 whole eggs, beaten to blend with a fork
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Cook pasta in one gallon of salted water till barely tender. It will cook further in the oven so be careful not to overcook it now. When pasta is done, drain and add eggs and melted butter. Stir well and set aside.
For the white sauce (pictured in the forefront):
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
4 cups milk (not skim)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Melt butter is medium saucepan and add flour whisking until smooth. Add milk, salt and nutmeg and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Allow to simmer for one or two minutes, remove from heat and add parmesan.
For the cheese:
20 ounces fontina cheese, grated (can use part swiss, jack, mozarella or combination but the fontina is the best!)
Grease a 9×13 pan. Spread with 1/2 of the pasta mixture.
Cover evenly with the thickened meat sauce.
Sprinkle with half of the grated cheese,
the remaining pasta…
and then pour the white sauce evenly over all. Use all the white sauce. The pan will be full.
Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Set pan on a larger baking sheet (to catch any spills)…
and take to a preheated 350 oven until top is golden and edges are bubbling. Serve with green Greek salad, hummus and pita and you’ll have a delightful meal and unique flavors that will appeal to every palate. Great for unexpected company and great to make ahead and freeze (baked or unbaked). Serves 10-12.