Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Pastitsio and bechamel born again out of wedlock


The Greek word pastitsio (pa-STEE-tsee-oh) derives from the Italian pasticcio, and means "pie", and has developed into figurative meanings of "a mess", "a tough situation", or a pastiche.Loosely translated it´s a hodgepodge.My version that I cooked up this week might be a little cuckoo ( one who lays their eggs in another one´s nest,meddling I would say).I meddled and I mixed and made a delicious midweek mish mash of a meal.If you are a proud Greek please forgive me for tampering with one of your classic dishes.
 There are 3 essential components which make up this dish - pasta, meat filling, and a creamy bechamel sauce. These are layered in a pan and baked to a golden brown.
The typical Greek version has a bottom layer that is bucatini or other tubular pasta, with cheese and egg as a binder; a middle layer of ground beef, veal or lamb with tomato and cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice; another layer of pasta; and finally a top layer of sauce, varying from an egg-based custard to a flour-based Béchamel. Grated cheese is also often sprinkled on top. Pastitsio is a common dish, and is often served as a main course, with a salad.Bearing all this in mind,while cooking this up as a midweek supper dish,through a combination of lazyness and a measure of austerity I accidentally created a new form of bechamel.I couldn´t be a***d to go through all the kerfuffle that is the making of a beautiful bechamel and instead found a large tub of ricotta in the fridge that needed using up.A sudden flash of savoury ricotta inspiration came to me.As unassuming as ricotta is, it really has a lot of tricks up its sleeve.I thought I would put this versatility to the test.
In my blender, I blended 2 cups of the ricotta with 2 egg yolks, nutmeg and 1/2 cup of  Parmigiano Reggiano until smooth. Seasoned it all with salt and pepper. I pulsed in the remaining ricotta and before I could say hey pastitsio I had the makings of a cheats bechamel (a substitute sauce replicating butter, flour and milk).
  • 2 tablespoon(s) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pound(s) lean ground beef mince
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano,chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon(s) cinnamon
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups tomato sauce or diluted tomato concentrate( see below)
  • 500g macaronibucatini or other tubular pasta
  • 3 cups fresh ricotta
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 350°. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the beef, onion,both types of oregano, cinnamon, cloves and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the beef is no longer pink and any liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Add some tomato sauce (a small tin of concentrated tomato purée diluted with water would be fine)  and bring to a boil. Boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has reduced slightly, about 5 minutes.

Cook the pasta until barely al dente; drain and return to the pot. Meanwhile, in a blender, blend 2 cups of the ricotta with the yolks, nutmeg and 1/2 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Pulse in the remaining ricotta.

Add your beef ragù to the pasta and toss. Transfer this mix to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour the ricotta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 20 minutes, until heated through. Heat the grill  and grill until the top is golden brown. Let stand for a few minutes before serving.

So out of austerity comes something simple but delicious.
Each stage requires dirtying several pots and pans, but I hope you will agree that after all the work the end result is well worth the washing up!

2 comments:

  1. And what a lovely b*stard it is! I think your cheese sauce sounds fabulous - it has the added bonus of not having flour in it, which can be a bit claggy.

    Funnily enough I have pasticco on my To-Do list and I love your addition of cinnamon and allspice. I shall report back.

    BTW, once made a cheese sauce by just melting the Italian cheese Taleggio - it was rather good!

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