Patitsio! A traditional Greek pasta casserole, I first enjoyed this dish when I in Greece years ago. Ina Garten has (nearly) perfected the recipe and I love making it for friends who can use an easy meal to pop in the oven.
Typically those friends are ones who have recently had a baby. But preparing food that can easily be warmed up is a sweet gesture for anyone who has moved homes, lost a loved one or could use a homemade meal just because. Patitsio is a bit time-consuming to make, but is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods and the payoff is worth the effort. It can be prepared and frozen for up to 3 months, refrigerated for a couple of days before baking or enjoyed with guests or family straight out of the oven.
I mentioned I think Ina’s recipe is *nearly* perfect. There is a sweet component to patitsio given the cinnamon and creamy béchamel sauce and I’m not personally a huge fan of lamb. When I make it, I swap out the lamb for spicy ground sausage and think it add the perfect kick to make the casserole a bit more savory. If you are making for friends, buy the disposable lasagna pans (extra deep if you can find them, I linked a couple of options below) so no one has to worry about returning one to you. And if you have the time, make sure to make one for yourself to have now (or later!)
For the Tomato Meat Sauce:
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound lean ground lamb (*I swap for spicy ground sausage)
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 large cloves)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes in puree
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Béchamel:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 extra-large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup Greek-style yogurt, such as Fage Total
3/4 pound small shells
- For the sauce, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the beef and lamb, and sauté over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until it’s no longer pink, crumbling it with the back of wooden spoon. Drain off any excess liquid, add the wine, and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and cayenne, and continue cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- For the béchamel, heat the milk and cream together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until simmering. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly for 2 minutes. Pour the warm milk and cream mixture into the butter and flour mixture, whisking constantly. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, until smooth and thick. Add the nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Stir in 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of the tomato and meat sauce, and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the eggs and yogurt and set aside.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente. Don’t over-cook because the pasta will later be baked. Drain and set aside.
- Add the pasta to the meat and tomato sauce, and pour the mixture into a baking dish. Spread the béchamel evenly to cover the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for 1 hour, until golden brown and bubbly. Set aside for 10 minutes and serve hot.
Reminder if you aren’t enjoying right away or you are making for someone else, prepare and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Let me know if you make this by commenting or email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.