Saturday, 25 October 2014

Pastitsio: Greek Lasagna with meat and Bechamel sauce

 Today is another special day. A day that celebrates most beautiful relationship on earth. That between a brother and a sister. Bhai Dwitiya. Traditional calls for certain rituals a sister must perform, wishing for her brother’s long and healthy life.  But it is the sentiment attached to the day that makes it so special.

Though I would never tell him so, the best day of my life was the day I held my little brother in my arms. I had never seen something so small and so wonderful. I was only seven, but I felt like a grown up. In fact, I grew up that day, for real. I knew on that day that I would care for this tiny human being and protect him from everything, ll my life. I was amazed at how tiny his feet were and quite distraught by the fact that he hardly had eye brows. And every time his little fingers curled around my finger my heart leapt in joy.

My brother is almost a man now, all of 21 and he hates mush in every form. Which means I can’t cuddle him or pull his cheeks or ruffle his hair, but to me he still is that weird looking tiny human I had held in my arms  so many years. However, our relationship hasn’t been as ideal as it might seem from what I have written so far. We can pull off the ugliest of fights, mostly violent. Nowadays we don’t beat each other up, we restrict ourselves to verbal assault, but there were times when our fight would end in him hanging by my ponytail while I screamed in pain or me sitting on him so he couldn’t move. He screamed louder. Breaking us up when we are fighing is a task steeped in danger. Many have got hurt!

That’s about my younger brother. Now about my elder brothers, cousins actually, but no less beloved. I grew up in a joint family under the constant vigil of my two elder brothers. A very very difficult life to say the least. If I was up to any mischief they were always the first ones to get to know. And they never knew how to keep a secret. A crush, coffee with friends, bunking tuitions, first shot of vodka, first puff of smoke, they always got to know. Sometimes I have had to bribe them to not tell on me. Mostly they didn’t accept bribes. Sigh.  But then they were also the ones who saved me from my mother’s wrath every time I did something to invoke it.

So yes I am blessed. Here’s raising a toast to my awesome threesome!

Anyway usually on Bhai Dwitiya we have a traditional feast. The whole family together. Other cousins come over too and so do my brother’s friends. But this time my elder brothers had a few unavoidable commitments and so the family get-together has been postponed. But my younger brother insisted on a special lunch. He loves pasta and I decided that it would be the best thing to make. Besides, I didn’t have the energy to cook him a multiple course meal as tradition demands. But then I wanted to make him something special. Not the usual pasta in Arrabiata or Alfredo sauce. So I made him Pastitsio. No it is not Italian. It is Greek. A layered pasta dish that has layers of feta laced pasta, delightful meat sauce topped with a thick, creamy leayer of Bechamel sauce and is baked to perfection. The golden crust is to die for. My recipe is inspired by the recipe here. 

Forgive me but I sort of destroyed the layers while plating for the pictures. However, the taste was crazy good.


For the pasta 

Penne: 400 g
Feta cheese - 100 g
Egg yolks - 2

For the meat sauce 

Minced lamb or chicken : 1 kg
Finely chopped onion - 2 large
Finely chopped garlic - 1 tbsp
Tomato puree - 100 ml
Red wine - 250 ml
Dried Oregano - 1 tsp
Finely chopped fresh parsley
Bay leaf - 2
Cloves - 2
Cinnamon stick - 3 inch broken into two
Salt to taste
Sugar - 1 tsp
Fresh cracked black pepper
Olive oil

For the Bechamel sauce 

All purpose flour - 100 g
Butter - 100 g
Warm milk - 500 ml
Egg yolks - 2
Salt to taste
Nutmeg powder - 1/4 tsp
Sugar to taste
Parmesan (grated) - 100 g


For the pasta

Boil water in a large pan, add salt (2 tbsp approximately) and a few table spoons of olive oil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente.  There should be a distinct bite to it. Drain.

Add crumbled pita and egg yolks to the pasta and mix well with a spatula or your hands.

For the meat sauce

In a pan, heat olive oil, add chopped onions and saute until soft. Add the chopped garlic ad fry until soft. Now add the minced meat, turn up heat and fry until browned.

Add the tomato puree and keep frying until oil begins to appear around the edges. De glaze the pan with red wine, bring to a boil.

Now add the oregano, parsley, bay leaf, cloves and cinnamon sticks and let it cook. Season with salt and pepper, add sugar and cook to a thick saucy consistency. Remove the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and cloves.

For the Bechamel Sauce 

Heat butter in a pan. Add the flour and whisk to make a fine paste. Now stream in the milk whisking vigorously, making sure no lumps are formed. Keep whisking for a couple of minutes on low heat.

Remove from heat and whisk in the egg yolks. Be careful and whisk continuously so that eggs do not curdle. Blend well. Now add the salt, sugar, pepper, nutmeg powder and three quarters of the grated cheese, whisk to blend.

Putting it together 

Grease a baking dish with butter, spread the pasta in a neat layer at the bottom.

Top the pasta layer with meat sauce. Spread it out with a spatula to make a more or less uniform layer.

Pour in the thick Bechamel sauce, spread in out with a spatula. Sprinkle remaining grated Parmesan.

In a pre heated oven, bake at 180 degree centigrade for 40 minutes or until a beautiful golden crust is formed.

Serve hot, hot, hot.

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