Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Neat-o Pastitsio!

After a handful of not-so-impressive dishes in the past couple weeks, I started reconsidering my recipe sources. Sadly, the recipes I've unearthed from other random cooking blogs seem to have the highest likelihood of failure, which means I'll be considering them more carefully from now on. So to ensure success with dinner tonight, I turned to my favorite America's Test Kitchen book: Cooking for Two.

I'm usually drawn to out-of-the-ordinary recipes, so when I flipped to Skillet Pastitsio it obviously grabbed my attention. I have to be totally honest ... I had absolutely no clue what pastitsio was. But thank goodness for the pictures in the book, because it looked good enough to eat. So I added it to this week's menu.

I didn't bother to dig into the origin of pastitsio before I made it (all I learned from the cookbook was that it's a Greek dish), but I figured before I wrote about it I should know a little more. Turns out the dish takes it's name from the Italian pasticcio, which is a family of pies typically involving pasta and ragu. No wonder it sounded so good to me!

Plus, the traditional Greek version of pastitsio (apparently versions are also popular in Egypt) is a layered dish, not unlike lasagna. And the pasta layer is most often made with bucatini (another of my Italian favorites!).

The recipe I used tonight was scaled back and made in a skillet to make it an easier weeknight dish.

Skillet Pastitsio
So it's not a pretty dish, but it sure is tasty!
8 oz. lean ground beef
1 onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 lb. (about 1 1/2 cups) elbow macaroni
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 oz. grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Cook the beef in an oven-safe skillet over medium heat until no longer pink. Transfer to a bowl, reserving some of the fat in the skillet. Set aside.

Add the onion, cinnamon and nutmeg to the skillet and cook until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, tomato paste and oregano and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in broth, water, 1/4 cup of the cream and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add cooked ground beef and pasta. Increase the heat to high and cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring often, until pasta is tender, about 10 minutes.

Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup cream and cornstarch together in a small bowl, then stir into the skillet. Continue to simmer until thickened slightly, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in 1/4 cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the top; bake until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.

The best way I can describe this dish is aromatic. Holy cow, did it smell delicious cooking (and the aroma is still lingering in the kitchen now!). I attribute that to the cinnamon and nutmeg, which when combined with beef and onion is oddly tasty. I know it's a typical combination in Mediterranean cooking, but it was new to me and I love it!

One last note, pastitsio is usually made with lamb, and this recipe actually did call for it. Unfortunately, the Metro Market didn't have ground lamb on Sunday. And if the Metro Market doesn't have it, I don't know where to find it (they have ground bison, for crying out loud!). Should I come across lamb, I will absolutely make this dish with it. America's Test Kitchen claims it will intensify the flavors, which could only make a good thing better :)


  1. I always thought this was Italian. Which, considering that I love all Italian food, surprised me that I'd never really heard of it, let alone had it. I'd probably like your version better than the recipe version though, I've never had lamb made in a way where I thought.. dang, that's good! It's just been kinda meh. But you never know, this dish might be the one that could turn me around on it.

    Cinnamon is an interesting addition, but I guess it's not that strange seeing as how nutmeg+cream are an always and forever combination, right?

  2. I'm also not a huge fan of lamb, but I think I'd like it in ground form. I've only ever had lamb chops or rack of lamb, and was never too wowed. But I think ground lamb, with this combination of ingredients, would be much more palatable. I'll let you know how it turns out when I eventually try it.