When I was little, one of my family’s favorite restaurants used to be a Greek place in my town called Levante’s. It’s sadly since closed in that location but at the time it had been my first introduction Greek and Mediterranean cuisine.
Practically every time we went I would order the Pastitsio, which is basically the Greek version of lasagna. Penne or ziti pasta noodles are layered between a meat sauce and béchamel, creating a decadent version of this italian favorite. To this day, I have fond memories of that restaurant and that dish and I’ve recently found it’s not too difficult to make at home!
If you’re looking for a twist on lasagna or even a Greek-inspired meal, this is a great dish for a weeknight meal. Prepare it on Sunday and you could have leftovers all week or even freeze some of it for later!
This recipe, like the majority that I love, has many components to it that are all combined at the end — you have your meat sauce that simmers for a couple hours to let the flavors come together and then your rich béchamel sauce.
But interestingly, in a twist I was not expecting from a seemingly simple twist on lasanga, the pasta in the dish is not as straightforward as you would guess. Instead of just layering your ziti or penne as is, you toss the pasta in olive oil, egg whites and parmesan cheese and then add them into the casserole. It made for a rich, dense noodle layer perfect for the meat and creamy sauce.
- 2 pounds ground lamb
- 1 cup chopped onions
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup dry red wine
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- 1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped with their liquid
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk, scalded
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 3 egg yolks
- Freshly ground nutmeg
- 1 pound pasta, such as ziti or penne
- 3 tablespoons good quality olive oil
- 3 egg whites (from yolks used in bechamel)
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375°.
- To make the meat sauce, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so. Add the ground lamb and cook until crumbly and browned all the way through. (I drained off a bit of the fat once this was done.) Increase heat to high, pour in the red wine, and allow to simmer until the red wine has cooked out. Stir in the tomato paste, cinnamon, and allspice. Add the tomatoes with their juices, reduce heat, and simmer the sauce for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally.
- To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about one minute. Add the scalded milk and continue to cook until the sauce is thick and coats the back of the spoon, about 5 - 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan and egg yolks. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.
- To make the pasta, cook the noodles until just barely al dente. Drain and toss with olive oil. Fold in the egg whites and Parmesan until well mixed.
- In a casserole dish with tall sides, layer half of the noodle mixture in the bottom of the dish, covering the bottom completely. Spread the entire amount of meat sauce over the noodle layer. Spread remaining noodles over the meat sauce. Pour a thick layer of bechamel on top of the noodles, to the top of the casserole dish (there may be a little leftover).
- Bake the casserole until the top is puffy and golden brown, about 45 minutes. This is best served the day after it is cooked, just reheat in a 325° oven until warmed through. If eating the day of, let it rest for at least 30 minutes before serving (this will make cleaner slices.).