So it’s been a while since I posted an actual recipe on the blog…the past few weeks, I have mostly been telling you about all the fun I have been having around town.
Well, this one is a special request for my niece Francesca, who requested a pastichio recipe. So this one’s for you kid! Family recipe getting passed on.
Of course testing this recipe was not easy. I had to translate my mother’s recipe from Greek which feeds about 1,000 hungry Greeks to this more manageable “family-sized” version. (Okay I’m exaggerating. A little. Not really. Okay a little. But it’s true, her recipe serves a lot of people.)
So today I had my mother over and had her experienced and watchful eyes supervise me while I made my very first pastichio.
What is pastichio? It’s thick macaroni noodles, ground beef in a light tomato sauce all covered with mizithra and Bechamel sauce baked in the oven. Sound familiar? It’s kind of like a lasagna, but with a very different flavor profile: it has the warm flavors of cinnamon, clove and salty mizithra cheese. The perfect fall dish.
I want to say it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3…but I would call this a “medium” in terms of difficulty. Only because there are 1, 2, 3 main parts you need to orchestrate:
1. Fat macaroni noodles with mizithra
2. Cinnamon and clove seasoned ground beef and
3. Bechamel sauce – the keys to the universe.
Let’s first talk about the fat macaroni. It’s more like really thick bucatini. It looks like fat spaghetti with a hole in it. My mom likes to use the Misko brand. But if you can’t find them, I am sure that rigatoni or penne would work too. Shhh, don’t tell my mom I said that.
Next is the ground beef. My mom is a stickler for the right meat-to-macaroni ratio but feel free to edit to fit your preferences. I like to use between a pound to a pound and a half. I mean you have heard of “approximate baking theory” right? Turns out that theory works here too.
Finally we have the bechamel sauce. It’s the “glue” that hold this whole dish together. Now there are different schools of thought regarding the bechamel sauce for pastichio. Some people like a really thick creamy layer and they use lots of butter and lots and lots of eggs to top the ground beef and macaroni. Me? I prefer my moms version…it’s a lighter, simpler bechamel and she lets some of it work it’s way into the nooks and crannies of the macaroni mixture with a thinner layer of bechamel on top. The choice is yours, but I like this version best.
So let’s get this party started and I will walk you through the steps. But first, the ingredients…
Vaso’s Pastichio (that’s my mom)
1/2 lb. “pastichio” macaroni
1/2 – 3/4 cup grated mizithra
1.25 lbs ground beef
1 cinnamon stick
4-5 whole cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cinammon
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup of water
4 cups of whole milk
1/2 cup fine semolina
Here is how to make pastichio. The pasta and beef can be made at the same time. Your bechamel sauce will be the final step.
Fat macaroni noodles:
First set a pot of water to boil. You will need this to boil your pasta for 10-13 minutes. You know, “al dente”. Be sure to salt your water once it comes to a boil before adding your macaroni.
Seasoned ground beef:
While waiting for your pasta water to boil, in a skillet or cast iron pan add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and bring up to a low to medium heat. Then add your ground beef and begin browning it.
Once the meat has browned, add the tomato paste, cinammon, cinnamon stick, whole cloves, salt and pepper. Easy on the salt because mizithra cheese you add later is salty and you don’t want to over do it.
I really recommend you to count how many cloves you added so you can fish them out later before assembling the dish. Otherwise you are in for a strong tasting surprise if you bite down into one.
Finally add a cup of water and cook the meat down until it has thickened and all the flavors have melded together. Set aside.
In the amount of time it takes you to prepare the meat, your pasta should be done too. Drain the pasta coat with a small splash of olive oil and get ready to assemble the dish.
In a large bowl toss your macaroni with the grated mizithra and then toss the ground beef mixture in as well. Put your mixture in a 9×11 baking dish and set aside. You want all of it be well coated like this:
Super simple bechamel sauce:
Preheat oven to 400F.
In a large pot, on your stovetop, add 4 cups of milk and 1/2 cup fine semolina and stir over a low heat for about 15 minutes. It’s important to stir slowly and constantly so that you don’t get lumps.
Sorry bechamel sauce is really high maintenance. Kind of like a Housewife of Beverly Hills…But worth it.
After the sauce has thickened nicely, kind of a like a loose cream of wheat consistency, turn off the heat and set aside to cool, stirring it every now and then to prevent a skin from forming. I would say this “cooling” takes about 10-15 minutes.
After 10-15 minutes your sauce will still be very warm but can now tolerate the eggs. Use a hand mixer and mix 3 eggs until foamy. Then stir them into your semolina mixture quickly to prevent clumps. Don’t be afraid…just do it 🙂
Your bechamel is now ready. If you like you can add a touch of nutmeg, but likely unnecessary because you have the clove and cinammon working for you in the ground beef.
Finally pour the bechamel carefully over the macaroni, mizithra and beef mixture in your baking dish. If you feel it might over flow, take a fork and move some of the pasta around to let the bechamel work its way into the nooks and crannies of the dish. In the end you still want a thin layer of bechamel on top to protect your macaroni from burning.
Place into a 400F oven for 45-50 minutes until the top is nicely browned. Let cool and serve. This version serves 6 people 2 pieces each. Or 4 hungry people 3 pieces each. Or 2 super hungry Greek men. LOL.