I’ve started sticking Ina’s name in front of any of her recipes I try. It lends a certain gravitas, like you know I’m not playing around when an Ina recipe shows up. Also, let’s just establish that casseroles do not photograph well. In my house. With any of my cameras. With me taking the photographs.
But, this pastitsio recipe will still save the day during the cold months. The first chills are in the air here, so I can hold on to this recipe no longer. It’s another one from Make It Ahead. I start doing a happy dance of joy when the fall chill sets in and I can start wearing turtlenecks again. Adam silently curses my name, because while fall is definitely my season, summer is his. But then I make food like this, which is only appropriate with crisp air, and he remembers that the cold weather has a few perks.
Like any casserole, plan your day with this one. You can indeed make it ahead, and it’s probably a good idea. Awesome leftovers, and it takes a smidge of time to assemble.
1.5 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 lb. lean ground lamb
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 (28 oz) can of crushed tomatoes in thick puree–Ina recommends Red Pack, which I couldn’t find, so I stood in the tomato aisle shaking every can until I found one that sounded “thick.” Like it wasn’t sloshing too much. Science!
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1.5 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream (yup, milk AND cream. Winter food FTW!)
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1.5 cups freshly grated Parmesan
7 oz. Greek yogurt
12 oz. small pasta shells
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, and add the onion. Saute for 5 minutes. Add the beef and lamb, and saute for 8-10 minutes, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it’s no longer pink.
Add the wine, cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and cayenne, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their liquid, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1.5 teaspoons black pepper. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40-45 minutes. Until the liquid evaporates. Then set aside. NOTE: This sauce is amazing on anything.
Preheat the oven to 350. Make the bechamel: heat the milk and cream together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, until simmer. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, add the flour, and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Pour the hot milk mixture into the butter and flour mixture, whisking constantly.
Continue whisking over medium heat for 4-6 minutes, until thick and smooth. Add the nutmeg, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Stir in 3/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Then stir in the yogurt and set aside.
Meanwhile, boil some water and cook the shells al dente according to package instructions. Don’t overcook the pasta since it will also be baked. Drain and set aside.
To assemble, combine the pasta with the meat and tomato sauce, stir in the eggs.
Pour the mixture into an 11 x 15 x 2-inch baking dish. Spread the bechamel evenly over the pasta.
Sprinkle with the remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan.
Bake for 1 hour, until golden brown and bubbly. Set aside for 10 minutes and serve hot.