Casa del Picky Eaters

This May Or May Not Be Pastitsio

Pastitsio

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I don’t really know why; just haven’t felt the urge, I guess. Nearly two years have passed, in which time I’ve changed jobs (twice), B has set up his own business, we’ve been on six holidays, picked up multiple sports injuries between us and have consistently failed to sell the house. Not that I’m offering all of this as any kind of excuse, you understand!

One of those holidays was to Limassol in Cyprus. That’s the closest I’ve come to Greece – Limassol is in the Greek bit – and although I recall seeing Pastitsio on menus there I didn’t order it. So god only knows where I picked this up from and I can’t say with any certainty at all whether or not this is an faithful rendition, but it’s very good. Non-purists could reasonably think of it as “Greek Lasagna”: layers of meat sauce, pasta and cheese, and all the rib-sticking comfort of its universally-beloved Italian cousin. Greek and Italian mothers both would undoubtedly be horrified by that. For me, though, it has a major technical advantage which is no gluten free lasagna sheets to wrestle with, parboiling piece by piece as the rest of your ingredients go cold and stiffen up. You need to take this bit really seriously, too: make it a day in advance, at least. It’s much more impressive when it’s had the chance to set cold and be reheated.

Pastitsio

750g minced meat: I use a mix of beef and veal

2 large-ish onions, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

A couple of stalks of fresh rosemary or dried equivalent

A couple of bayleaves

Half a glass of white wine

400ml can of chopped tomatoes – drain a bit of the liquid off if you’ve got a watery brand

500g pasta of a fairly small tubular shape. I use Waitrose Love Life Penne now, which I’m 99.9% sure comes from the same supplier as the Sainsbury’s version I used to buy

Whites of two large eggs, beaten vigorously

600-800g gluten free white sauce. If you make gluten free white sauce yourself, well done – you want about a litre. I can’t be bothered. I use ready made sauce fro a jar or most often some kind of cheese sauce of the type you see alongside fresh pasta. If you use cheese sauce, you could omit the parmesan. *Could*

Parmesan or other cheese, grated, to taste

First, brown your meat in batches in a heavy-bottomed pan over a high heat. I really mean this – take the time actually get it all brown, to the point where some helpful so-and-so peers over your shoulder and accuses you of burning it. Grey mince is sad and tasteless; properly browned meat is full of rich flavour. This is much easier to do in batches – less liquid in the pan means the meat can catch (brown)  instead of just steaming (grey). Drain the mince halfway through to remove excess liquid: it will help. Be patient. Know that you shall be rewarded.

Remove the thoroughly browned meat from the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Soften the onions until they become golden and add the garlic. After a couple of minutes, add the meat back into the pan, followed by the herbs and the wine. Turn the heat back up a bit; reduce the wine by about half and add the tomatoes. Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer for at least half an hour, to the point where the sauce is thick and dry – no pools of watery tomato juice sitting on the surface. Season.

In the meantime, boil your pasta to the point of being just about done; remove from the heat and drain. When it’s cooled a bit, stir the beaten egg whites through. Cover the base of a casserole dish with about half of the pasta, and then cover that with the meat. Put the remaining pasta on top, pour over the white or cheese sauce, and then finish off with grated cheese of your choice – a nice melty one – and place in the oven at 180, uncovered, for half an hour.

The next day, when it’s cold, cut slices out which look lovely with all the pasta tube cross-sections, and warm them in the oven on a baking sheet. The microwave won’t do it too much damage either, if you’re really hungry, but do let it cool down to “warm” before you eat.

Good with a side salad and a second helping.

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