Baked pasta dishes speak of comfort and homeliness and this pastitsio is testament to both. Ever since I first made Rick Stein’s version from his book, Mediterranean Escapes, this Greek pasta bake has been a firm favourite at our table. I suppose you could say pastitsio is the Greek version of the more well known Italian classic, lasagne. A rich meat sauce tossed with pasta, smothered in béchamel and baked until golden. That’s comfort food, right there. Although unconventional I suppose, I’ve drizzled a hot basil and sage butter over the top and it was sensational.
Clever cooking often relies on versatility. This recipe borrows from two former blog posts. The first is my go-to Red wine beef ragu and the other, a dependable cheesy béchamel that I used for a cauliflower mac and cheese. According to Rick, in Corfu they use kefalotiri, an ewe’s milk cheese and to the meat sauce, a pinch of cinnamon is added. I replaced the cinnamon with mixed spice which worked pretty well. Once the meat is cooked and the white sauce is done, it’s a matter of putting it all together.
For me, pasta, whether Greek or Italian, has to have parmesan. I go in liberally with a generous handful sprinkled on top. Bake until the cheese is golden and melted. The basil and sage butter is clearly not Greek, but adds a nutty herbaceous-ness which I just love. Cooking is about combining ingredients that taste good together and make sense to your palate. Food doesn’t follow rules, just preferences.
Pastitsio with basil and sage butter
Please note: The recipes for both the red wine meat sauce and béchamel can be found in the links provided above.
- Pastitsio with basil and sage butter
- 1 x quantity red wine meat sauce
- 400g penne pasta
- 1 x quantity white sauce
- ⅓ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- a handful fresh sage leaves
- 2 stems small basil leaves
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 200º C.
- Cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining.
- Toss the pasta and meat sauce together. Add ¾ - 1 cup of reserved pasta water to loosen.
- Transfer to a large greased baking dish.
- Pour the white sauce over the pasta and scatter with parmesan.
- Bake for about 25 minutes until golden.
- Melt the butter in a pan. Add the sage and toss to coat. Once the sage turns crisp, add the basil and season with black pepper.
- Pour the hot herb butter over the baked pasta and serve.