pastitsio, a taste of corfu


one of the books that my prize-winning mustardy mackerel fishcakes snaffled for me was rick stein’s mediterranean escapes. i’m a long time fan of rick stein’s cooking and having missed the tv show that accompanies this book it was really nice to be able to explore the countries he visited and foods he discovered with this book.

the first recipe that i have made from it, which really jumped out was this greek spiced beef and pasta dish. the flavours are very gentle but a really nice alternative from a lasagne which is probably the similar dish which many people make. as with lasagne, getting a decent photo is near impossible!

this dish is my contribution to presto pasta nights, as hosted by ruth at once upon a feast.

rick stein’s pastitsio - beef and macaroni pie with cinnamon, red wine and kefalotiri cheese (serves 8-10)

for the meat sauce:

4 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

1kg/2¼lb lean minced beef

200ml/7fl oz red wine

400g/14oz can chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato purée

10cm/4in piece cinnamon stick

¼ tsp ground cloves

1 tbsp dried oregano, greek if possible

2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped

3 fresh bay leaves

100ml/3½fl oz water

1½ tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

for the pasta:

8 tsp salt

500g/1lb 2oz tubular pasta, such as rigatoni

2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten

50g/1¾oz greek kefalotiri cheese, finely grated (or you can use parmesan)

2 tbsp melted butter

10g/½oz fresh white breadcrumbs

for the white sauce:

115g/4¼oz butter

115g/4¼oz plain flour

1.2 litres/2 pints whole milk, plus a little extra

½ tsp nutmeg, freshly grated

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

for the meat sauce, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pan, add the onion, garlic and celery and fry until just beginning to brown. add the minced beef and fry over a high heat for 3-4 minutes, breaking up any lumps with a wooden spoon as it browns.

add the red wine, tomatoes, tomato purée, cinnamon stick, ground cloves, dried and fresh oregano, bay leaves, water, the 1½ teaspoons salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste, and simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring now and then, until the sauce has thickened but is still nicely moist. remove from the heat and discard the cinnamon stick and bay leaves.

for the pasta, bring 4.5 litres/8 pints water to the boil in a large saucepan with the eight teaspoons salt. add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 13 minutes, but take care not to overcook as it will cook a little further in the oven. drain well, transfer to a large bowl and leave to cool slightly.

for the white sauce, melt the butter in a medium-sized non-stick saucepan, add the flour and cook, stirring, over a medium heat, for one minute. gradually beat in the milk, then bring to the boil, stirring. lower the heat and leave to simmer for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. season with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper to taste.

preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4. stir 250ml/9fl oz (about one-fifth) of the white sauce into the warm pasta with the beaten eggs and half the grated cheese. keep the remaining sauce warm over a low heat, stirring now and then and adding more milk if it begins to get a little thick.

use the melted butter to grease a large, shallow ovenproof dish that measures about 23cm x 33cm (9in x 13in) across and 7cm (2½in) deep. spread one-third of the pasta over the base of the dish and cover with half the meat sauce. add another third of the pasta and then the rest of the meat sauce, then cover with a final layer of pasta. spoon over the remaining white sauce. mix the remaining grated cheese with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle them over the top. bake for 40 minutes until bubbling hot and golden brown.

serve with a green salad, crusty bread and a gusty red wine.