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Greek Pastitsio: File Under Easter Lasagna 2012

Greek Lasagna (Pastitsio)

1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 green bell pepper and 1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded,
and minced
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1 lb. ground beef, veal, or pork
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1⁄3 cup red wine
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
powdered cinnamon, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper,
to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

Note: Double the bechamel sauce if you like a lot. Erasmia does.
8 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup flour
4 cups milk
1 cup grated Greek “Kefalotiri” cheese.  In Greek markets like the ones in Astoria, Queens NY they sell it already grated. You can substitute Parmesan.
3 eggs, separated
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper,
to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1lb. No. 2 Greek macaroni, bucatini,
or elbow macaroni
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1. Make the meat sauce: Heat oil in a 12” skillet over medium-high heat. Add peppers and onions and cook, stirring often, until soft, 8–10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onion mixture to a plate and set aside. Add ground meat to skillet and cook, breaking meat up into tiny pieces, until browned, 6–8 minutes. Add reserved onion mixture, along with tomatoes, wine, bay leaves, and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove sauce from heat, discard bay leaves, and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg; let cool.

2. Make the béchamel: Heat butter in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until smooth and slightly toasted, 1–2 minutes. Add milk; cook, whisking often, until sauce coats the back of a spoon, 8–10 minutes. Remove from heat, add 3⁄4 cup cheese and egg yolks; season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir until smooth; set aside.

3. Heat oven to 350°. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add pasta and cook halfway through, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk egg whites in a large bowl until frothy. Stir in remaining cheese; drain pasta in a colander and then toss with egg white–cheese mixture to coat evenly. Set aside.

4. Grease a deep 9” x 13” baking dish with olive oil. Place half the pasta mixture on bottom of dish and cover evenly with meat sauce. Top with remaining pasta mixture. Pour béchamel over pasta, spreading it evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 1 hour. Transfer to wire rack; cool 20 minutes before serving.

SERVES 10 – 12


Okay, I’m busy. Okay, okay, ridiculously busy. I admit it: I couldn’t get my friend Erasmia’s Easter Lasagna up here until almost Memorial Day. But why do we have to save this fabulous lamb and cheese lasagna for one day a year? If I didn’t know it was traditional for Greek Easter, I would make it anytime. It’s incredibly delicious and decadent. So, for all your calendar slaves out there, file this in your recipe files (you know you have one - alphabetical no doubt) and for the calendar rebels (you know you’re eating turkey and cranberry sauce at the diner all year long, don’t deny it) here’s one for you. Read on for some other great shots of Erasmia’s amazing cooking and her funny, bittersweet stories of cooking without the matriarchs, long gone, who made all these family traditions possible:

Funny, when I googled Greek recipes, the first thing I found was this blog devoted to sororities and fraternities. If you want cookie cutters in the shapes of Greek letters, this is the spot for you! Otherwise stick with Erasmia’s recipe here, adapted from from an updated one (chorizo and chile in your Greek dish, anyone?) Saveur magazine’s.

From Erasmia:

I was invited on Thursday by some other Greek moms to a house in Secaucus to do some baking together.  It was fun, but also a bit of a disaster.  The cookies (koulourakia) would have been a disaster, had I not in the end forced some creative changes (adding mastiha liqueur, orange rind, and lots more butter!!) But the tsoureki was a real disaster - the loaves did not rise at all, and the taste was horrible!  The bittersweet part of this was that it was obvious to me that we were all trying to be “our mothers” AND trying to preserve a Greek tradition that we have not been taught how to maintain.  I can’t tell you how many times that day someone would say “my mother used to do _______”.  And yet, it was clear that nobody had any real experience actually doing it, because we’re all American, working moms - never really groomed to be “housewives”!  I felt so nostalgic at the end of the day, but at the same time, moved by our “collective” and determined mission!

So now I really want to learn how to make tsoureki!  Maybe one day we can make it together.

Good luck with the pastitsio!




When there’s no table space . . . do as the pianists do . . .

see also: Easter Pie or Pizza Rustica

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