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"Roast Beef, Medium, is not only a food. It is a philosophy. Seated at Life's Dining Table, with the menu of Morals before you, your eye wanders a bit over the entrées, the hors d'oeuvres, and the things à la, though you know that Roast Beef, Medium, is safe and sane, and sure."

Edna Ferber (1887-1968), U.S. author. Roast Beef, Medium, Foreword (1911)

As with most ethnic dishes, there are several variations for making Pastitsio. I happen to favor this version, which is based on a recipe right out of a Greek Church cookbook in my town. I make it every Easter.

Preparation Time: 2 hours Serving Size: 8 to 10

  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided throughout the recipe
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 8 ounces plain tomato sauce
  • 1 to 2 cinnamon sticks (about 10 to 12 inches worth)
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups parmigiano reggianno cheese, shredded
  • ground cinnamon
  • Cream Sauce (see below)
Click on picture for more images.

Heat oven to 350°. Melt 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a 12 inch skillet. Add chopped onion and a pinch of salt and sauté over medium heat until tender but not browned. Add ground beef, break up in pan while browning. Drain all but three tablespoons of the drippings. Lower heat to medium low and add the kosher salt,  chopped fresh parsley, tomato sauce and cinnamon stick. Simmer for 35 to 50 minutes, stirring often, until all liquid is absorbed. Turn off the heat and set aside.

About 15 minutes before meat mixture is done, bring a large pot of highly salted water to a boil. Cook macaroni for the minimum time according to the package. You do not want to cook it all the way through. Drain to a bowl and add the remaining 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, stirring until melted and coating all the pasta.

Cream Sauce

  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose floor, sifted
  • 4 cups whole milk, warmed
  • 5 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Melt 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk sifted flour into the melted butter. Cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Slowly pour in warmed milk and stir constantly until mixture just starts to thicken, about 15 minutes. Stir the beaten egg yolks with the hot spoon or whisk to temper slightly. Very slowly pour the beaten egg yolks into the cream mixture whisking and stirring constantly to avoid scrambled eggs. Continue to stir constantly until completely thickened, about 15 minutes more. Times are approximate. Stir in salt, pepper and nutmeg. Set aside and begin assembling the pastitsio. Stir the cream sauce occasionally while assembling the pastitio.

Use a large 14x10x2 inch lasagna pan to assemble the dish. Lightly cover the bottom of the pan with parmigiano reggiano (a couple tablespoons or so). Spread half of the cooked and buttered macaroni over the cheese. Sprinkle with half of the remaining cheese, reserving 1/2 cup or so for the top. Lightly sprinkle the cheese with ground cinnamon (not too much!). Remove the cinnamon stick and spread the entire meat mixture evenly into the pan. Cover the meat with the remaining macaroni, then the rest of the cheese, reserving still 1/2 cup for the top, and sprinkle lightly with ground cinnamon (not too much!). Pour the cream sauce evenly over the top. sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top of the cream sauce. Bake 45 to 50 minutes until the top is evenly browned a light golden color.