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Pastitsio – Greek baked pasta casserole

Like Spaghetti Bolognese, for me, this is right up there in terms of great comfort food. With the addition of typical Greek spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice), this takes its Italian counterpart, lasagne, to another level. It still has its wonderfully juicy meat sauce topped with a thick creamy cheese sauce (bechamel)… but it’s the spices that sets this Greek dish apart. And of course the use of long macaroni like tubular pasta which means the juices seep through between each strand making it even more full of flavour.

The recipe

Sarah Maxwell's Meze Cooking recipe bookAs with most of the Greek dishes I make, I turned to Sarah Maxwell’s Meze Cooking recipe book. This book is full of simple classic Greek dishes that are easy to make, clearly written…and, so far, everything I’ve cooked is delicious.

Some of the ingredients are a little tricky to find, but its well worth hunting around so that you get the maximum impact of both the taste and look of the dish.

Do try and find the right pasta – as I mentioned, having the meaty sauce seep through between each strand, really adds to the flavour. And that wonderful sight of alien like tubes when you cut the dish really has an impact. We use Misko which we’ve managed to find in Asda and Waitrose (check the World Food aisles) and it’s normally available in any decent Greek food store.

The recipe suggests kefalotyri cheese (hard, salty white cheese made from goat or sheep milk) which personally I think is a must….but good quality feta is also a great alternative. I’ve tried this recipe using both and I prefer using just kefalotyri or a mix of the two. Again, some major supermarkets sell this cheese and all Greek food stores will have some in stock.

Pastitsio

Otherwise, all the ingredients are easy to find and the recipe is very straightforward.

But be warned, you will need a big pot to cook the pasta…and you’ll need to make sure you add time for heating up such a large quantity of water to cook the pasta.

You’ll also need to save a bit of patience for laying out the pasta once it’s Pastitsiocooked. Ideally, you want to get each strand laying out flat so that you get that great visual appeal when you slice it to serve.

And given the pasta will be hot, I’d recommend donning a pair of rubber gloves!

I couldn’t find the recipe online, so click here to see a scan of it.

Improvements

Having made this a few times, I’ve found I’ve wanted a little more juice in the sauce. And, as how it works so well with a good old spag bol,  I’ve felt it needed to be a bit more winey! With the availability of great Greek wine on the up, I’ve turned to the likes of a Mavrodaphne (be careful as this is a sweet wine) or this rich smooth red we found in Marks & Spencer.

The wine

Well, if you follow my tip of adding a glass of Greek wine to your pastitsio, then why turn to anything else. This bottle of Thymiopoulos Xinomavro we found in Marks & Spencer is a “ruby-coloured wine, gorgeously scented with blackberries and damsons” and is best paired with “robust red meat dishes”. But if you have trouble finding a Greek wine, then a decent Tempranillo is a good match for the beefy tomato sauce.

 

 

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