Gastronomi Klonowski: It comes from the Greek

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Ordinarily I have one simple rule for the recipes I put in this column. No matter how good something sounds in the cookbook, I have to make it myself at least once as a quality control. To date, no dish has failed to make the cut on taste (because let’s face it, I make some pretty delectable stuff), although there was one recipe that failed on feasibility. My recent attempt at enchiladas ended up as a huge baked pile of cheese, tex-mex veggies and fragmented corn tortillas. Delicious? Absolutely. Aesthetically pleasing? Positively not.

This week, I have decided to chuck the One Rule out the proverbial window. I haven’t yet made this recipe, although I am very much looking forward to doing so, as soon as humanly possible. Such unbridled excitement naturally comes with a backstory.

At the close of club volleyball practice last Thursday, a dear teammate by the name of Ian Gallmeister ’16 casually mentioned that he had recently made some pastitsio, and had a crapload of it leftover. My eyes lit up as I repeated the word, rather loudly, in his direction. One thing led to another, and I ended up at his house 20 minutes later to sample the heavenly dish. So, while I have not yet made this recipe personally, my experience still pushes me to highly recommend it.

Of course, one backstory must lead to another in this case. The reason behind my excited reaction can be condensed in a single word: family. Even if we haven’t met, you could probably guess my Polish heritage based on my surname. But another family name (that I didn’t inherit) is Vellos, from my great-grandparents who emigrated from Greece.

My family has always been one to celebrate its roots, and many of our traditions are based on Greek food. No family gathering is complete without a tray of feta and kalamata olives on every table. My uncle once ordered five plates of saganaki (pan-fried cheese) at our favorite Greek restaurant, reassuring the confused waiter that my cousins and I would eat it “like it’s candy.” But above all, I am most fond of pastitsio. In my family, this dish (among others) is always served on Easter in an enormous catering tray from the same restaurant. I haven’t been home for Easter since starting college, so I am very grateful to Ian for reintroducing me to pastitsio and sharing his recipe.

Not everyone I’ve talked to has enjoyed or heard of this wonderful dish before, so I thought a brief description was warranted. I always tell people to imagine lasagna, except a hundred times better. Replace the sheet pasta with a tubular variety like ziti or macaroni, the tomato sauce with a rich, creamy white sauce, and the mozzarella with parmesan. Now you know all about lasagna’s superior cousin from across the Mediterranean! As always, bon appetit.

Pastitsio

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces ziti or macaroni
  • 7 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2⁄3 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 1⁄3 cups milk, divided
  • 2 eggs, divided
  • 1 lb ground beef or turkey
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint flakes (optional)
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 tablespoons flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil pasta according to package directions. Drain, and return to the pot.
  2. Stir 3 Tbsp of melted butter, 1/3 cup parmesan, 1/3 cup milk and a beaten egg into pasta pot. Set aside.
  3. Saute ground meat and onion until meat is no longer pink and onion is soft. Drain excess fat.
  4. Into meat pan, stir tomato sauce, 1 tsp of salt, mint flakes, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper. Set aside.
  5. Melt 4 Tbsp of butter in a saucepan, then mix in flour and ¼ tsp of salt.
  6. Slowly stir in 2 cups of milk, mixing well so that no lumps form.
  7. Cook cream sauce on medium-high, stirring occasionally, until it starts to thicken. Allow to cook for one more minute, then remove from heat.
  8. Pour a beaten egg into cream sauce and stir well.
  9. Stir 1/3 cup of parmesan into cream sauce.
  10. Layer half of pasta mixture into 2-quart baking dish. Spoon meat mixture over the top, then the remaining pasta. Pour cream sauce evenly over the entire dish.
  11. Bake 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand briefly before serving.