Pastitsio – Make weekends extra special with this authentic Greek lasagna made with amazing layers of cinnamon-infused and herby meaty sauce, bechamel sauce, and pastitsio pasta. Creamy, cheesy, and meaty – a completely fully loaded meal with the perfect blend of glorious flavors.
What is Pastitsio?
See that gorgeous meaty, cheesy, and creamy layers of heavenly goodness? Ahh! So mouthwatering!
It’s screaming nothing but pure happiness!
Plus, the inviting aroma of this dish is so comforting and warm. You’re going into a lovely food coma just thinking about it. Just the perfect comfort food you needed.😍
Sometimes you just gotta play around with various herbs and spices and you’ll be surprised with the outcome.
What is Pastitsio?
The name Pastitsio is derived from the Italian word “pasticcio” which are savory pies made of any meaty filling which, later on, evolved into different versions involving pastry crust and bechamel sauce.
One of the most known versions of Pastitsio is the one developed by a French-trained Greek chef, Nikolaos Tselementes.
Instead of pastry crust, he swapped it with tubular pasta and added spices such as cinnamon and cloves to the tomato-based sauce; making the bechamel sauce even richer with the addition of nutmeg and allspice.
Recipe Ingredients and Substitutes
I highly suggest not to skimp on the Pastitsio recipe ingredients if you’re aiming for the authentic version. However, few substitutions will do the trick. 😉
- Oil – I used olive oil because it also adds a nice flavor. (Not sure what to do with your used oil? You can check out my blog post on How to Dispose of Cooking Oil.)
- Ground Beef – Beef is the tastiest among all kinds of meat which makes it the best choice for this pastichio recipe. Make sure to choose lean meat so our dish won’t be too greasy. And of course, you can substitute beef with any ground meat if you prefer.
- Onion and Garlic – Sauteing with garlic and onion really adds savory flavor to any dish. The longer you saute, the better. But be careful not to burn them or else your pastichio will be a little bitter. Here’s the perfect guide on How to Cut Onions and How to Mince Garlic.
- Tomato Sauce – Most of the pasta sauces are tomato-based because it really goes well with any pasta. Best substitutes for tomato sauce include any kind of canned tomatoes. Just drain the excess liquid and pulse it with a blender or food processor.
- Tomato Paste – Since we need to make our Pastichio sauce on the thick side, the addition of tomato paste is a must. Plus, it adds a deeper and richer tomato flavor to our Greek lasagna.
- Cinnamon Stick – The key ingredient to bring out the authentic flavor of this Pastitsio recipe. If cinnamon stick isn’t available, you can just simply swap it with a teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
- Bay Leaves – This adds a nice subtle hint of minty and earthy flavors to our classic Greek comfort food. You can leave it out if you don’t have this on hand, or just add more dried oregano or thyme to compensate for the flavor.
- Oregano, Thyme, and Parsley – Any pasta recipe wouldn’t be complete without these aromatic herbs. If you want to make your dish fancier and more lavish, let these herbs do their magic.
- Beef Stock and Beef Bouillon – Let’s amp up the flavor of our pastitsio with beef stock and beef bouillon. They add umami flavors to the meat sauce making our Greek lasagna more savory and flavorful.
Greek Bechamel Sauce
- Butter – You can use salted or unsalted butter for this recipe. This will make our bechamel sauce rich and buttery.
- All-Purpose Flour – We need to mix the flour with butter to make the roux; the secret to making our cheese sauce nice and thick.
- Whole Milk – Add milk to thin out the cheese sauce a little bit and to make it spreadable while adding creaminess, too.
- Eggs – We will be using a combination of whole eggs and egg yolk to make the authentic Greek bechamel sauce. Don’t skip on the eggs because they are needed to stabilize our cheese sauce and pasta layer.
- Kefalotyri – Kefalotyri cheese is a common cheese available in Greece usually made with sheep or goat’s milk. Don’t stress yourself if you can’t find it in your local grocery stores because Parmesan and Romano cheese make a decent substitute. 👍
- Nutmeg – A dash of nutmeg really goes a long way! Be it for dessert or savory dishes, it always complements the flavor of any dish.
- Pastitsio Noodles or Mostaccioli – You can easily replace this with any tubular pasta like ziti and penne. Honestly, you can replace it with any pasta. It will still have the same flavor, but only with different pasta shapes.
- Egg White – We’ll add the egg whites while the pasta is still hot. It’ll add creaminess to the pasta layer instead of having it plain. And again, to make it stand firm even after slicing.
- Kasseri Cheese – Mixed with egg, it will make a nice simple pasta sauce similar to the authentic Italian carbonara. Colby and mild cheddar are the closest substitutes that you can get. They both resemble the taste and texture of Kasseri Cheese. Parmesan, mozzarella, and feta cheese would also do the trick.
- Infused with Wine – You can add any red wine to this pastitsio recipe. It intensifies and adds a little accent to the flavor of this fantastic dish.
- Cuisine Fusion – If you want to add some Cajun touch to this Greek Pastitsio, a dash of Creole Seasoning would be nice. Or some sprinkles of Taco Seasoning to add Mexican flavors. And of course, you can also infuse more Italian flavors with my ever-reliable blend of herbs, Italian Seasoning.
- Spice it Up – Pepper flakes and cayenne pepper have the right amount of spiciness without overpowering the taste of the whole dish. Still not hot enough for you? Level up the spiciness with habanero, serrano, jalapeno, or scotch bonnet peppers.
Serving and Storage Instructions
This Greek pastitsio recipe may take a lot of time to make but I promise you it’s really worth the effort. From the creamy pasta layer up to the thick and cheesy white sauce topping, everything is just simply amazing.
The good news is you can make this ahead and have more time to rest or more time to cook more dishes!
- Store – Cook the pasta, meat sauce, and bechamel sauce according to instructions. Then assemble in a baking dish. Let it cool before covering with a cling wrap or foil.
- Refrigerate – The assembled Greek Pastitsio can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Then bake as directed.
- Freezer – Or you can freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, thaw overnight inside the fridge and bake as instructed.
Pro Tip: For leftovers, separate them into individual portions and place them in freezer-safe resealable bags for easy thawing and reheating.
- Thaw – Let the leftover Greek lasagna thaw overnight inside the fridge when ready to serve.
- Oven – Place the leftover in a baking dish and cover with foil. Heat at 180°C/350°F for 20-30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
- Microwave – Heat on high for 2-3 minutes or until heated through.
Use Pastitsio noodles or mostaccioli for the best results. But you can use any tubular pasta to get the same features.
Both are Mediterranean recipes that use the same meaty sauce and bechamel sauce. However, moussaka has layers of eggplants and potatoes while pastitsio uses Greek noodles.
The main cause of a lumpy sauce is adding too much flour to your roux. You can fix this by adding more liquid or milk to thin out the sauce a little bit. Make sure to add the liquid gradually to make sure that the flour will not get lumpy.
What to Serve with Pastitsio?
Refreshing dishes with contrasting flavors make lovely pairings to this richly-flavored Pastitsio. Like these enticing salad recipes below.
More Pasta Dishes Around the World
- Blackened Shrimp and Pasta
- Chicken Alfredo
- Fiesta Chicken Casserole
- American Goulash
- Southern Baked Mac and Dish
More Greek Recipes to Try
How to Make Pastitsio
Make the Meat Sauce
- Saute – In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Saute garlic, onion, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, parsley, and ground beef. Cook until the beef changes to brownish color. (Photos 1-2)
- Mix – Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, cinnamon stick, and beef bouillon. Mix until fully incorporated. (Photo 3)
- Simmer – Then add the beef stock and let it simmer.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low – And cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until the meat sauce thickens. Stir occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The meat sauce should be thick and not too saucy. (Photo 4)
- Let it cool – Remove from heat and let it cool, uncovered. Set it aside.
Greek Bechamel Sauce
- Make the roux – Heat the big saucepan over medium heat. Make the roux by melting the butter and adding the flour. Mix until fully combined and becomes thick. (Photo 5)
- Gradually pour the milk – And continue whisking until everything dissolves and is fully incorporated. (Photos 6-7)
- Add the egg yolks – And continue to mix until the sauce thickens. (Photo 8)
- Remove from heat – Then add the grated Kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese and nutmeg. Set it aside. (Photos 9-10)
Preparing the Pasta Layer
- Cook the pasta – according to package instructions and drain.
- Grate the kasseri cheese. (Photo 11)
- Toss the pasta in egg white and cheese – In a large mixing bowl, toss the pasta in egg white and grated kasseri cheese, asiago, or an Italian blend. (Photo 12)
Assembling the Pastitsio
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
- Add about 1/4 cup of bechamel sauce – to the meat sauce and mix thoroughly until well blended. This is optional. (Photos 13-14)
- Grease – the baking dish with butter or oil. (Photo 15)
- Layer the pastitsio pasta – into the greased baking dish. (Photo 16)
- Then add the meat sauce layer – and top with grated kasseri cheese. (Photo 17)
- Pour the bechame sauce – For the final layer, pour the bechamel sauce and add more cheese on top. (Photo 18)
- Bake for 30 minutes – or until the cheese is bubbly and golden.
- Let it sit – for about 20-30 minutes before serving.
- Garnish – with chopped parsley and serve.
Watch How To Make It
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 pc bay leaf
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 2 teaspoons thyme
- ¼ cup parsley, chopped
- 1 ½ lbs (680 g) ground beef
- 1 can 5-ounce canned tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons beef bouillon
- ⅓ cup (79ml) beef stock
Greek Bechamel Sauce
- ⅓ cup or 76g butter
- ½ cup or 64g all-purpose flour
- 3 cups or 711ml whole milk
- 3 egg yolks, beaten
- 1 cup Kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese, grated
- pinch nutmeg
- ½ package package pastitsio noodles or mostaccioli
- ½ lb or more kasseri cheese, asiago, or an Italian blend grated, about 4 cups
- 1 large egg white
- In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Saute garlic, onion, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, parsley, and ground beef. Cook until the beef changes to brownish color.
- Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, cinnamon stick, and beef bouillon. Mix until fully incorporated.
- Then add the beef stock and let it simmer.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until the meat sauce thickens. Stir occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The meat sauce should be thick and not too saucy.
- Remove from heat and let it cool, uncovered. Set it aside.
- Heat the big saucepan over medium heat. Make the roux by melting the butter and adding the flour. Mix until fully combined and becomes thick.
- Gradually pour the milk and continue whisking until everything dissolves and is fully incorporated.
- Add the egg yolks and continue to mix until the sauce thickens.
- Remove from heat then add the grated Kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese and nutmeg. Set it aside.
- Cook the pasta according to package instructions and drain.
- Grate the kasseri cheese.
- In a large pot, toss the pasta in egg white and grated kasseri cheese, or asiago, or an Italian blend.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
- Add about 1/4 cup of bechamel sauce to the meat sauce and mix thoroughly until well blended. This is optional.
- Grease the baking dish with butter or oil.
- Layer the pastitsio pasta into the greased baking dish.
- Then add the meat sauce layer and top with grated kasseri cheese.
- For the final layer, pour the bechamel sauce and add more cheese on top.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and golden.
- Let it sit for about 20-30 minutes before serving.
- Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.
Tips & Notes:
- You can use a mix of ground beef and ground pork for this pastitsio recipe.
- Don’t skip on the eggs on making the Greek Bechamel sauce. The eggs make the cheese sauce stable enough to hold its shape after slicing. Same with the egg whites and cheese tossed in the pasta layer.
- Presentation-wise, you can use any tubular pasta. As much as possible assemble them in one direction.
- Let the pastitsio cool a little bit before slicing. Slicing it straight from the oven might cause the layers to collapse.
- You can make it ahead and store it in the fridge for about 4 days and 3 months in the freezer.
- Please keep in mind that the nutritional information is a rough estimate and can vary significantly based on the products used in the recipe.