Pastitsio is one of the most popular Greek comfort food recipes and one of my favorites. It’s a savory combination of tasty ground beef with pasta and a creamy sauce.
Pastitsio is often found on Greek restaurant menus, as it’s a staple of traditional Greek recipes.
The recipe may look like it has quite a few ingredients, but it’s really quite easy to put together.
It’s basically a Greek casserole with three layers: a bottom layer of pasta, eggs and Parmesan cheese, with a layer of tasty ground beef on top of that, and topped with an easy to make creamy sauce.
For the pasta layer it’s best to use a tube pasta like penne. Although you can use any shape, tube pastas are the traditional pastas used in this Greek recipe, and they work perfectly. The inside of the tubes will take in some of the sauce and be really tasty.
The ground beef mixture is fairly simple. It’s mixed with chopped onion, tomato paste and beef stock or wine. You will also notice something that probably seems a little different, maybe even a bit odd – the addition of a bit of cinnamon. Cinnamon is commonly used in savory Greek recipes, just to add a bit of a different taste. It’s actually quite a common Mediterranean ingredient and you will find it in Middle Eastern recipes as well. It works surprisingly well with beef dishes.
Pastitsio Recipe Tips
My number one tip, as I mentioned above is to use the right pasta shape. A flat pasta, like spaghetti or linguine, won’t work nearly as well as a tube shaped pasta like penne, or even rigatoni. The tube pasta adds some volume to this ground beef casserole, and also holds some of the yummy sauce in it’s hollow tube.
This is the type of pasta you are looking for:
My next tip for this recipe is to simply take one step at a time. Make one part of the recipe, the seasoned ground beef for example, then set it aside and start on another step. That way you don’t have too many things going on at the same time and risk doing something wrong. This IS an easy recipe, but there are a few steps to keep separate.
You can layer all of the pasta at the bottom of the casserole or use 1/2 of the pasta on the bottom and half of it on top of the layer of ground beef, under the cream sauce. Either way works and you will find it made both ways in Greek restaurants.
Here is an essential tip for making the creamy sauce. Once you have the sauce base made and the recipe says to add some of it to the egg mixture GRADUALLY, it is really important to do that slowly. Adding the full cup of the hot sauce to the raw egg mixture all at once will cause the eggs to cook, which will ruin your cream sauce. Just add the hot sauce to the eggs in a slow drizzle, mixing well as you go, and it will be fine.
Here is a tip I offer pretty much any time we are cooking pasta. Pasta NEEDS salt in the water it is cooked in. The salt adds flavor to the pasta that you can never get by adding salt just in the final dish. Italians say that pasta cooking water should “taste like the sea” – salty. I always add a couple of teaspoons of salt to the pasta cooking water.
Some people like to add oil to the pasta cooking water as well. That’s fine, but I don’t consider that essential like the salted water is.
This Greek casserole makes a fantastic everyday meal, but it’s perfect for serving to company as well. Just add a wonderful Greek salad on the side and you are ready to eat!
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Greek Pastitsio Recipe
- 9"x13" baking pan
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/4 cup beef stock, or dry red wine
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3/4 pound penne pasta , uncooked
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons butter , melted
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/4 cup half and half cream
- 8 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
For the Cream Sauce:
- 1/4 cup butter
- 4 cups milk
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- salt to taste
- 5 eggs
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 13"x9" baking dish and set it aside.
- In a large skillet, brown the meat and onions, stirring often to break up the meat. Add tomato paste, 1/3 cup water, wine or beef broth, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and cinnamon. Simmer for 10 minutes until the liquid evaporates.
- Meanwhile, bring 2 to 3 quarts of water to a boil in a 5 quart pot or Dutch oven. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the pasta, being sure that the water continues to boil. Cook the pasta uncovered until tender but firm, according to the directions on the package, stirring occasionally to make sure it stays separated. Drain the pasta. Pour the melted butter over the pasta, tossing it all together well. Set the pasta aside.
- In a small bowl, stir together the egg and cream to blend together. Set aside 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese for the topping. Toss the egg mixture and remaining cheese with the cooked pasta.
- Place the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish. Spread the meat sauce over the pasta and pour the creamy sauce over the meat sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining 3 tablespoons of cheese and bake in a preheated oven for 45 minutes or until top of the casserole is golden.
To Make the Cream Sauce:
- In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, milk and cornstarch. Stir over low heat until thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the salt.
- Remove from the heat. Beat the eggs together well and very slowly stir about 1 cup of the hot sauce into the beaten eggs. Do this very gradually to allow the eggs to warm slowly. Too quickly and the eggs will cook. Gradually add the egg mixture to the sauce and stir to blend it together.
- Makes about 5 cups of cream sauce.
I hope this recipe gets you exciting about starting some Mediterranean cooking if you haven’t already. Mediterranean recipes are tasty, healthy and usually pretty easy to make.
This Greek ground beef casserole keeps well in the refrigerator for a couple of days and makes excellent leftovers – if you have any!
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