It’s been called “Greek lasagna” and it does have pasta, and layers. Pastichio, however, prefers to stand on it’s own merits and not rely on the reputation of its Italian cousin, twice removed. Pastichio is a dish to make on a weekend, or a day when you can take the time to let the meat sauce cook slowly and become flavorful. It will take a couple hours to make, but most of it is simmering and/or baking time. This version uses brown rice noodles and is gluten-free by the substitution of cornstarch for wheat flour.
Patichio is a layered casserole, with pasta mixed with a cheesy white sauce on the bottom, a layer of thick, meaty sauce in the middle and more pasta on top. More white sauce and grated cheese cover the top. I love the exotic flavor of the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
We had spiral shaped rice pasta, but a tubular pasta like penne or ziti looks neater when the slices are removed from the pan. We’ve used rice pasta several times and it holds up well, but you have to be really careful not to overcook it. I was afraid the leftovers would be mushy, but they were better than I expected and oh! so tasty the next day, like most baked pasta dishes.
I bought a block of parmesan cheese and grated it myself, but the pre-grated stuff is fine, as long as it’s really cheese. You could even use a mixed blend of cheeses if you prefer.
This recipe makes a lot of pastichio so it’s a perfect candidate for freezer cooking. Portion it into two casserole, serve one and freeze the other. We used foil pans with flat lids that measured about 12″x 9″x 3″. Use the size that best suits your family’s needs. Pastichio is also a good choice for a dinner party as it can be prepared ahead and placed in the oven about an hour and a half before you plan to serve it. You could cut the recipe in half if you prefer, but it’s no more trouble to make the extra.
Read through the recipe and decide if you have enough pots and pans to make everything in its own pan, or if you’ll need to transfer something into another container and reuse a pot. You could, for example cook the pasta first, and store it in the fridge while you cook the meat sauce in the same pot.
- 1 pound brown rice pasta
For the meat sauce:
- 1 pound hamburger
- 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 medium onion cut into petals
- 1/2 large green pepper diced
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups warm water
For the white sauce:
- 4 cups milk
- 8 tablespoons butter (one stick)
- 4 tablespoons corn starch
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or to taste)
- 2 1/2 cups grated parmesan or other hard cheese (1 1/2 cups for the white sauce, reserve the remaining cup for topping)
- salt and pepper to taste
Cook the meat sauce first:
- Heat the oil in a large skillet or dutch oven.
- Add the onions and garlic and sauté for a few minutes.
- Add the peppers and sauté for a few minutes more.
- Add the hamburger and cook over medium heat until it’s browned.
- Drain the meat (I always use a colander).
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, cinnamon and cloves. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Stir in 2 cups of warm water and reduce the heat to low. You barely want it to bubble.
- Cook uncovered for a half an hour or longer, stirring occasionally. You want a nice thick sauce.
When the meat sauce has thickened up, start the pasta.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Add a tablespoon of salt (I know “they” say the cooking water should taste like the sea, but that’s too much for me)
- Add the brown rice pasta and allow the water to return to a boil.
- Cook until the pasta is no longer firm, but is still mostly uncooked, about 2 minutes. Keep in mind the pastichio will also be baked.
- Drain in a colander and run cold water over the pasta.
- Return the pasta to the cooking pot and stir in a teaspoon or so of olive oil.
Turn the heat off on the meat sauce, and start the white sauce (Is it still béchamel if you use corn starch?)
- Melt the butter in a small sauce pan.
- Place the milk in a large sauce pan on medium heat and use a whisk to mix the cornstarch into the milk a tablespoon at a time. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the milk rather than dumping it in.
- Add the butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
- Allow the white sauce to come to a boil. Boil for one minute, then reduce the heat to low.
- Whisk in the cheese, a half cup at a time. (Don’t forget to reserve some for the top!)
- Remove from the heat when the cheese is melted and the sauce is nice and smooth.
Get ready to assemble the pastichio!
- Preheat the over to 350°.
- Mix about half the white sauce with the pasta.
- Put half the pasta in the bottom of your casserole (divide it among however many pans you’re using).
- Spread all the meat sauce over top the bottom layer.
- The rest of the pasta makes up the third layer.
- Pour the remaining white sauce over the top.
- Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
- Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes or until the pastichio is bubbly and has a nice golden color.
- It will be difficult, but let the pastichio set for a while before you cut into it as it will be very loose when first removed from the oven.
ENJOY! You’ve earned it, after all that! But look at it, it’s gorgeous! Just, please, whatever you do, don’t call it “Greek lasagna” 🙂