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Ina Garten’s Pastitsio

I am of the opinion that Ina Garten can do no wrong. Whether it’s her roast chicken, her Beef Bourguignon, or her lemon bars, the Barefoot Contessa always knows what she’s doing in the kitchen and her Pastitsio is no exception. Pastitsio is a Greek pasta dish that features ground meat, tomato sauce, bechamel, and ziti that’s baked together in a layered fashion… you can think of it as Greece’s take on lasagna. It’s comfort food at its finest and Ina (of course!) really does it justice.

This recipe takes time, so it’s probably not going to be one of those quick weeknight meals you turn to in a pinch, but I can promise that it’s worth every minute of effort and it’s perfect for a lazy Sunday. Her recipe calls for a combination of beef and lamb, but you can substitute pork for the latter. I was tempted to use all beef, but I’m so glad I didn’t. The combination really makes a difference in flavor.

That gets sauteed with some onions, and then red wine, garlic, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and cayenne are added. (See? this is flavorful stuff!)

Crushed tomatoes go in and the sauce simmers for a good while, so you can be sure that the flavors have really melded and intensified.

In her version, the ziti gets stirred right into the sauce…

… but not before you take a scoop of the meat sauce and stir it into a simple Parmesan-laced bechamel that you let cool for a bit before adding eggs and Greek yogurt. That bechamel gets poured over the top of the pasta…

… and gets topped with cheese, as any good baked pasta dish should.

It bakes for a full hour, so the cheese gets very golden brown and crisp in the oven and when you scoop into it, you reveal the layers of goodness beneath – tender ziti pasta, rich and hearty red sauce, and a creamy bechamel.

There are versions of Pastitsio where the separation of the layers is more defined, allowing you to go with a slice and serve sort of presentation. Ina’s is a more scoopable sort of affair, but that’s nothing to complain about.

It’s a recipe that’s so full of flavor and comfort… it’s absolutely everything you could want from a baked pasta. And from Ina, I’d expect nothing less.

Ina Garten's Pastitsio

2 hours to prepare serves 6

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound lean ground lamb or pork
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • For the béchamel:
  • 1 1/2 cups milk, heated
  • 1 cup heavy cream, heated
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan, divided
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 pound ziti
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Preparation

  1. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. First, make the sauce:
  3. In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add beef and lamb and cook until no longer pink.
  4. Drain any excess fat and add the wine, scraping up any bits stuck to pan. Cook for 2 minutes, then add garlic, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and cayenne, and continue cooking for 5 minutes.
  5. Add tomatoes, about 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of black pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.
  6. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Pour in warmed milk and cream and continue whisking. Cook, stirring occasionally, until smooth and thick, about 5-7 minutes.
  7. Add nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper. Stir in 3/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of the tomato and meat sauce, remove from heat, and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the eggs and yogurt. Set aside.
  8. While you make the bechamel, cook the ziti in a large pot of salted, boiling water until al dente. (The pasta will cook more in the oven, so be sure not to overcook it.) Drain and set aside.
  9. Stir the pasta into the meat and tomato sauce and pour the mixture into a baking dish. Spread bechamel evenly over the top and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.
  10. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 1 hour. Let rest 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Recipe from Ina Garten.