Lasagna is one of Italy’s outstanding home-comfort food contributions to the world, but a quick jaunt across the sapphire waters of the Mediterranean shows that Greeks have an equally delicious take on the concept. Pastitsio layers on the bouncy pasta, perfect for scooping up sauces, and the herbaceous, profoundly savory sauce simmered to enhance all its meaty goodness. On top are a homemade creamy béchamel sauce and kefalotyri Greek cheese–a rich, aromatic cheese with plenty of tang and sharpness similar in flavor to Gruyere. Pastitsio is stacked with goodness from head to toe; one bite, and you’ll ask how this hasn’t become more well-known in the States because it’s just oh so fabulous!

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Ingredients

For the meat sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

For the pasta:

  • 1 pound pastitsio pasta or bucatini

For the béchamel sauce:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 1/2 cups 2% milk
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup kefalotyri Greek cheese or parmesan, grated
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks, egg whites reserved for layering

For layering:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups kefalotyri Greek cheese or parmesan, grated and divided

Directions

Step 1 –Add the olive oil to a large skillet and heat it over medium-high heat.

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Step 2 –Add the beef to the hot oil and cook, breaking it up as it cooked, until well-browned, about 6-10 minutes.

Step 3 –Add the onion, stirring and cooking until soft and translucent, about 3-4 minutes.

Step 4 –Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Step 5 –Deglaze the pan with the red wine.

Step 6 –Add the bay leaves, the oregano, the cloves, the cinnamon, the allspice, the salt, the pepper, the tomato paste, the crushed tomatoes, the water, and the sugar, stirring everything together.

Step 7 –Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.

Step 8 –Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened, about 45 minutes.

Step 9 –Remove and discard the bay leaves and the cinnamon stick.

Step 10 –Cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente.

Step 11 –Drain the pasta and allow it to cool.

Step 12 –In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.

Step 13 –Add the flour and whisk, continuing to whisk until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.

Step 14 –Add the milk, the nutmeg, the salt, and the pepper, whisking everything together.

Step 15 –Cook, whisking as necessary, until fully combined and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Step 16 –Transfer the saucepan from the heat and stir in 3/4 cup of the kefalotyri cheese.

Step 17 –In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the 2 eggs and the 2 egg yolks.

Step 18 –Temper the eggs by slowly ladling in some of the hot béchamel sauce, a little at time, and constantly whisking. The goal is to slowly incorporate the sauce into the egg mixture and bring the eggs slowly up to a higher temperature so they do not curdle. Do not stop whisking during this step.

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Step 19 –Once the eggs have been tempered, gradually add the egg mixture to the béchamel sauce, stirring brisky.

Step 20 –Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Step 21 –Grease a 9x13x3-inch pan with olive oil.

Step 22 –Toss the cooked pasta with 1/2 cup of the meat sauce.

Step 23 –Whisk the 2 egg whites and 1/2 cup of the kefalotyri cheese into the pasta mixture.

Step 24 –Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared pan, arranging the pasta so it all goes in the same direction if desired.

Step 25 –Top the pasta with the remaining meat sauce, smoothing out the surface.

Step 26 –Pour the béchamel sauce over the meat sauce layer, smoothing it out.

Step 27 –Top the dish with the remaining cheese.

Step 28 –Bake until the top is golden-brown and set, about 45-50 minutes.

Step 29 –Let the pastitsio rest for at least 30 minutes.

Step 30 –Slice and serve.