Pastitsio on the left, roasted butternut squash on the right.
The first time I was introduced to Pastitsio was after Sam was born. We were blessed with many delicious meals from fellow church members in the weeks after his birth. One particular friend brought us a meal and at first I thought the best part of his meal was that he offered to stay and hold Sam while we ate- truly a gift in itself. But, then I tasted the dish he brought. It looked like a fairly standard pasta with cheese, tomatoes and ground beef, but it tasted other-worldly. Thankfully, he shared the recipe and I've made it several times since. I would have made it more, but it's a tad involved and these days I just don't have a whole lot of time for really involved meals.
What really makes pastitsio taste different are the spices. So, the other night I was making a pretty standard pasta bake for dinner and as I was cooking the sauce, I added some spices. Our friend's pastitsio recipe called for cinnamon and cumin. To the dish I as making, I added cinnamon and nutmeg. It was just enough to transform a very standard casserole into something remarkably different. And the whole family loved it. Don't believe me? Give it a try yourself.
Simplified Pastitsio (loosely based on a recipe from Cooking Light, Annual Recipes 2004)
This recipe makes one 2-quart baking dish, plus a bit more, so have a smaller dish on hand or use a 9 x 13" pan.
1 pound tube-like pasta (ziti, macaroni, or penne)
1 pound (or a bit less) ground beef or bulk sausage
1 cup onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. tomato paste (are you remembering to freeze your paste?)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 (14-ounce) cans tomatoes or stewed tomatoes (chopped) with juices
1 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese
Cook the pasta according to the instructions, drain and set aside. In the meantime, cook sausage (or beef) in a skillet with onions and garlic until browned and crumbling. Add tomato paste, tomatoes, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Combine cooked pasta and tomato mixture.
Place half of the pasta mixture into your baking dish. Top with half of the mozzarella and half the parmesan cheese. Add the remaining pasta mixture and top with the remaining cheeses.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until bubbly.