Love’s Perfect Pastitsio

(Greek Macaroni, Beef & Cheese Casserole with Béchamel)


A true labor of love, this favorite family recipe has been perfected through the years by several of my supremely talented cooking cousins, one of whose last name is “Love”.   May your families love it as much as ours do…and when you taste it, don’t forget to say, “Opa!”.
     Renée Copeland
     Land of Crete Imports LLC

STEP I – Prepare Meat Sauce (Can be made a day ahead and stored in refrigerator until ready to assemble.  Before assembling, warm in microwave for 2 minutes for easy spreading.)

1 Medium Yellow or Vidalia Sweet Onion, diced
2 Tbs. Terra Creta Estate Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 pounds Organic Grass Fed Ground beef, 90% lean
1 15oz can Organic Tomato Sauce
3 tsp. of Organic “Better Than Bouillon” Reduced Sodium Beef Base dissolved in 2 cups warm water (carried by Costco)
1 ½ tsp. Salt & 1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbs. fresh marjoram, chopped

1. Sauté onions, salt and pepper in 2 TBS of Terra Creta Estate Organic EVOO, on medium heat until translucent.
2. While the onion is sautéing, using a micro plane, grate 2 tsp. of nutmeg on a piece of parchment paper. Use 1 tsp. for meat sauce and reserve the other for the Béchamel.
3. Add 2 lbs. of ground beef to onions.  Break meat into small bits as it browns. Do not drain.
4. Once meat is nicely browned, add 1 can of Organic Tomato Sauce and 2 cups of the Beef Broth.
5. Add freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon and marjoram
6. Simmer uncovered for 60-70 minutes, stirring occasionally, until 75% of liquid is reduced, to a medium thick consistency.

STEP II – Prepare Béchamel Sauce
10 Tbs. Organic Salted Butter
1 cup All Purpose Organic Unbleached Flour, sifted
7 cups of Organic Whole Milk
1 ½ tsp. Salt, 1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1. To make béchamel, pour 7 cups of organic whole milk into a heavy saucepan and heat over low heat until warm.  Do not scald, but keep warm as you prepare béchamel. 
2. In a separate large pot, melt 10 Tbs. of butter.
3. Add one cup of sifted all purpose flour to melted butter, whisking constantly to prepare a roux. Cook until aromatic and golden.
4. Keep milk warm on stovetop near the large pot with the roux, so you can add warm milk to the roux.  On medium low heat, add the warm milk to the roux, about 1 cup at a time, whisking constantly.  As it gets absorbed and thickened, continue adding and whisking until all milk is incorporated. 
5. Continue stirring over low heat until sauce is thickened (about 30 minutes). Turn off heat and add salt, pepper and nutmeg.  

Step III – Prepare Pasta Noodles
1 package (1 pound) of imported Greek Pastitsio Noodles.  These are long tubes, about the thickness and length of a drinking straw.  They can be found in Greek and Middle Eastern grocery stores or ordered online.  Substitutions are not recommended, but if you have no source in your area, Penne pasta can be used – but it’s not the same, nor as authentically Greek.
1 ½ Tbs. salt and 3 Tbs. Terra Creta Estate Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 ½ cups of prepared béchamel sauce
1 cup of freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan Cheese

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil with 1½ Tbs. salt and 1 Tbs. Terra Creta Estate Organic EVOO.
2. Add the entire package of Greek pasta noodles to boiling water. Bring to boil and cook 8-9 minutes, or until al dente.
3. Drain noodles.  Drizzle 1 Tbs. Organic EVOO in bottom of same pot and add noodles back into the pot.  Drizzle an additional 1 Tbs. EVOO over the noodles and carefully toss to distribute.  Cool a few minutes.
4. In a small bowl, beat 2 organic eggs with a fork or small whisk.  Add beaten eggs to warm pasta and mix carefully to avoid breaking the noodles.
5. Add 2.5 cups of prepared warm béchamel sauce to the noodles; stir gently to combine.
6. Add 1 cup of freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese to noodles; stir gently to combine.

Step IV – Assemble The Casserole  (Use a deep dish 9”x13”x 4”)
7 cups freshly grated Organic Monterey Jack Cheese
Prepared Pastitsio Noodles
Meat sauce
Remaining Béchamel
½ - 2/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs. Terra Creta Estate Organic EVOO
2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley
Note:  If using a non-stick pan, no need to oil the baking dish, otherwise you should lightly oil it.

1. 1st Layer:  Place half of the prepared pasta noodles in the baking dish.
2. 2nd Layer:  Sprinkle 2.5 cups of Monterey Jack cheese over noodles
3. 3rd Layer:  Spread ALL of meat sauce over cheese.
4. 4th Layer:  Sprinkle 2.5 cups of Monterey Jack cheese over meat.
5. 5th Layer:  Place remaining half of pasta over the cheese.
6. 6th Layer:  Sprinkle remaining 2 cups of jack cheese over the pasta. 
7. 7th Layer:  Gently spread remaining 4.5 cups of béchamel sauce over the top, getting it into every little crevice and corner.
8. 8th Layer:  Sprinkle lightly with freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan Cheese.
9. 9th Layer:  Drizzle 2 Tbs. Organic EVOO over cheese
10. Pan will be quite full.  Place baking dish on a foil lined cookie sheet to catch any spills.
11. Bake at 375 degrees, on center rack of oven until nicely browned, about 60-70 minutes.  
12. Garnish with fresh parsley.  Allow casserole to cool 10-15 minutes before slicing into large squares to serve.

Freezes well.  Cool completely, then cut into portions and freeze, or freeze the whole pan if desired. To reheat, allow to defrost completely, then microwave or warm in the oven