Greek Pastitsio: Baked Pasta With Meat and Béchamel

Pastitsio baked pasta with meat recipe

The Spruce Eats / Teena Agnel

Prep: 45 mins
Cook: 70 mins
Cool Time: 20 mins
Total: 2 hrs 15 mins
Servings: 12 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
668 Calories
42g Fat
32g Carbs
37g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 668
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 42g 54%
Saturated Fat 20g 101%
Cholesterol 270mg 90%
Sodium 1109mg 48%
Total Carbohydrate 32g 12%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 7g
Protein 37g
Vitamin C 6mg 28%
Calcium 274mg 21%
Iron 5mg 26%
Potassium 710mg 15%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

When teaching others to make this dish, some cooks tease that the word pastitsio (pa-STEE-tsee-oh) translates to "messy kitchen" in Greek. Although just a joke, there is a hint of truth to that statement. The Greek word pastitsio is derived from the Italian pasticcio, which loosely translates to a mess or a hodgepodge. You can think of it as the Greek version of lasagna.

Three essential components make up this dish—pasta, meat filling, and a creamy béchamel sauce—which are layered in a pan and baked to a golden brown. You use some egg whites for the pasta stage and reserve the yolks for the béchamel. Each prep step will require dirtying some pots and pans, but the end result is well worth the cleanup.

You'll likely need to find some of the ingredients at a specialty retailer or online, as this recipe calls for a specific type of Greek pasta shape used for this dish. If you happen to live near a great cheesemonger or a supermarket with an excellent cheese selection, you may be able to find the sharp, salty Kefalotri cheese; otherwise, the closest and most widely available substitute would be Parmesan.

"This takes some effort to prepare, but it's a showstopper if you're feeding a crowd. The meat mixture is absolutely delicious. I used a 15 x 10 x 2-inch baking dish, about 5 quarts. The béchamel custard was nothing less than glorious, and the egg white mixture helped the noodle layer stay together when removing it from the pan” —Diana Andrews

 

pastitsio/tester image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

For the Meat Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, more for the baking dish

  • 2 pounds ground beef, or ground lamb, or a mixture of both

  • 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped

  • 1 cup dry white wine

  • 1 (14-ounce) can tomato puree, or tomato sauce

  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs

For the Pasta:

  • Kosher salt, as needed

  • 1 (16-ounce) box #2 Macaroni for pastitsio, or bucatini

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 4 large egg whites, beaten

  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, or Kefalotyri, divided

For the Béchamel Sauce:

  • 8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 quart milk, warmed

  • 8 large egg yolks, beaten

  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg

  • 1 pinch kosher salt

Steps to Make It

Make the Meat Filling

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for meat filling
    The Spruce  / Teena Agnel
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot.

    Olive oil in pan
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  3. Add ground beef and cook over medium-high heat, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Drain excess fat from the pot.

    Add ground beef
    The Spruce Eats / Teena Agnel
  4. Add onions and cook until they are translucent, about 5 minutes more.

    Ground meat and onions for pastitsio
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  5. Add wine, tomato sauce, parsley, allspice, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 10 minutes.

    Sauces and spices simmering with meat and onions
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  6. Stir breadcrumbs into meat sauce to absorb excess liquid. Remove from heat and set aside.

    Stir breadcrumbs into meat, onions, and sauce
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel

Make the Noodles

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for noodles
    The Spruce  / Teena Agnel
  2. In a large pot of well-salted water, cook pasta according to package directions until al-dente. Drain well. Set the pot aside, you'll use it again.

    Elbow macaroni boiling in a pot of water
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  3. Rinse noodles in a colander under cold water to cool completely.

    Pasta rinsed in a colander
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  4. Melt butter in pasta pot. Return the cooked noodles to the pot.

    Drain pasta
    The Spruce Eats / Teena Agnel
  5. Fold in the egg whites and 1 cup of grated cheese and toss gently, being careful not to break the noodles.

    Egg stirred into cooked pasta
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel

Assemble the Pastitsio

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Pasta and meat sauce for pastitsio
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel 
  2. Brush the bottom and sides of a 5-quart (about 15 x 10 x 2-inch) baking dish with olive oil. Layer the bottom with the pasta noodles and press down so that they are somewhat flat.

    Pan brushed with olive oil and loaded with pasta
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel 
  3. Add the meat filling in an even layer, flattening the layer as best you can with your hands. Set aside.

    Meat layer added on top of pasta layer
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  4. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 F. Meanwhile, prepare the béchamel sauce.

Prepare the Béchamel Sauce

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for béchamel sauce
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel 
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat.

    Melting butter in a saucepan
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  3. Add the flour to melted butter. Whisk continuously to make a smooth paste (called a roux). Cook the flour-butter mixture while whisking constantly, 1 minute more. Do not let it brown.

    Flour added to melted butter in a saucepan
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  4. Add warmed milk to mixture in a slow steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens (do not boil). This could take up to 20 minutes.

    Warmed milk added to sauce
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  5. Remove from heat. Put the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Temper some of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks while whisking continuously. Whisk the mixture back into the saucepan. Whisk in the nutmeg and salt.

    Add nutmeg to béchamel
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  6. Return to stove and cook over very low heat while continuing to stir, if necessary. Béchamel should be thicker than gravy, but not quite as thick as pudding. One way to tell if it is thick enough is to dip your wooden spoon in the sauce and draw your finger across the back of the spoon; if the sauce holds a visible line then it is ready.

    Thickened béchamel sauce
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel

Bake the Pastitsio

  1. Pour the béchamel over the pasta noodles making sure the sauce covers the corners as well.

    Béchamel poured over pastitsio
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  2. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.

    Pastitsio sprinkled with Parmesan sauce
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  3. Transfer the dish to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the top is a nice golden color, 45 to 50 minutes.

    Pastitsio baked until golden brown
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel
  4. Let cool about 20 minutes. Serve and enjoy.

    Pastitsio square on a plate with parsley garnish
    The Spruce / Teena Agnel

Recipe Variation

  • If you cannot find the No. 2 macaroni made for pastitsio, you can substitute bucatini or penne. If you are using penne, cut it to look like ziti since penne can flatten more than the long pastitsio noodles which tend to get twisted when layered.