Recipe Authentic Greek Pastitsio - Baked Pasta & Meat - Topped with Bechamel Sauce and Cheese.






Traditional Greek pastitsio - Photo - ifoodblogger
Traditional Greek pastitsio - Photo - ifoodblogger

I love  the kind of food, that can be cooked, first thing in the morning, and then just left, until it's time to eat.

This enables you to get on with the rest of your day without having to worry about what to feed your family.

Pastitsio is traditionally eaten cold in Greece, but is just as good, eaten hot, which is how I prefer MGG (My Greek God) thinks otherwise!

 Prepare it in the morning, and pop it in the oven for fifteen minutes, before serving.

Add a crisp green,or Greek salad, crusty bread, olives, feta cheese and a bowl of tzatziki, open up a bottle of good Greek wine, and there you have it'

A traditional, mouth watering, Greek meal.

Pastitsio, is pasta, meat sauce and bechamel sauce, all layered together, to create this tasty, traditional, Greek dish.


The three parts of pastitsio
The three parts of pastitsio

Ingredients:

For the meat sauce:

I kilo minced beef

1 carton tomato puree (about 450 gr)

2 large onions chopped

1 clove garlic chopped

150 ml  olive oil

1 Bay leaf

1 Cinnamon stick

10 cloves, whole, or 1/2 tsp ground cloves

Salt & pepper to taste

For the bechamel sauce:

200 gr butter

150 gr  Plain flour

1.5 litres milk

2 beaten eggs

About 100 gr Grated hard cheese e.g Greek Kefalotiri or Parmesan

1 tsp grated nutmeg


(Whole nutmeg, freshly grated, has much, much more flavour than powdered nutmeg)

Pasta

500 gr spaghetti pasta size number 2

Method

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add  half a tea spoon of salt, and drop in the pasta, leave to boil for the amount of time stated on the packet, stirring frequently.

When cooked, drain and rinse in a colander, leave to one side

 Meat sauce:

 Heat the olive oil in a large pan, saute the chopped onion and garlic for 5 minutes and add the minced beef, saute for another ten minutes.

Add the tomato puree, along with a couple of cups of boiling water, stir well.

Pop in the bay leaf, the cinnamon stick, and throw in a few cloves, 10 or so.

(Grated  cinnamon and cloves, can be used, but, you will get only half the flavour)

Season with salt & pepper.

Simmer the sauce for twenty to thirty minutes, stirring occasionally and adding hot water if necessary.

At this point, switch on the oven, 180 deg.C

Bechamel sauce

People are nervous about making bechamel sauce, worrying that it will become lumpy.

Using this method, I have never had that problem.

 I'm frequently asked;

 "How do you make such a good bechamel sauce?" !


Ingredients for bechamel sauce
Ingredients for bechamel sauce

I'm sure that I don't make it "The correct way" but, it works every time, without fail!

I'll explain my method to you, as best as I can.


How the butter and flour should look, before beginning to add the milk
How the butter and flour should look,
before beginning to add the milk

First off, I don't measure the ingredients for bechamel.

 Melt  about 200gr of butter, remove the pan from the heat, important, then, slowly add flour, stirring well, until the mixture forms a ball, and falls away from the sides of the pan, without sticking.

 You may not need the whole 150 gr of flour, or, you may need more, just add enough to make the mixture form a ball, see above picture.

 Gradually add the milk, first slowly, mixing well with a spoon, then as the mixture becomes more liquid, whisk well with a balloon whisk.

If you do spot lumps beginning to form, whisk as fast as you can for a minute!

Once all the milk has been added, grate in some nutmeg, a whole nutmeg!

Season with salt & pepper, if the cheese you have (This will be added later) is salty, go easy

 on the salt in the bechamel.


Bechamel sauce, ready to be put on the heat,  and, brought to the boil.
Bechamel sauce, ready to be put on the heat,
 and, brought to the boil.


Once all bechamel ingredients have been added, return the pan to the heat, stirring all the time, and I mean all the time, a bit of a bore, but you have to!

I use a balloon whisk.

Whisk away, until the sauce comes to the boil, remove the pan from the heat.

At this stage, most recipes say, leave the sauce to cool, I don't!

Add, and stir in well, about a cup of grated cheese, mix it really well!

Then, slowly, whisking  all the time, so that the sauce doesn't curdle, add the beaten egg.

If it looks like it is about to curdle, whisk for your life!


Whisk like mad!
Whisk like mad!

I think the secret of a successful bechamel sauce is; 

Combine the flour and all the milk, into the melted butter, with the pan off the heat.

Whisk, whisk, whisk, as hard as you can, continuously!

Assemble Pastitsio

Now, it's time to put it all together, firstly, add just enough of the bechamel sauce, to cover the bottom of the ovenproof tin, or baking dish that you are using.


Cover the base of the tin with bechamel sauce
Cover the base of the tin with bechamel sauce

On top of the bechamel sauce, add half of the boiled pasta, and on top of the pasta,  sprinkle a table spoon of grated cheese.

While sitting in the colander, the pasta may have become a big lump!

 Just run under hot water for a second or two, to separate it, drain well.


First stage of Greek pastitsio - Add pasta, sprinkle with grated cheese
First stage of Greek pastitsio - Add pasta, sprinkle with grated cheese

 Add all the meat sauce on top of the pasta (remember to discard the bay leaf and cinnamon stick) spreading it out evenly .


Greek pastisio before adding pasta - Greeker than the Greeks
Greek pastisio before adding pasta - Greeker than the Greeks

Add the rest of the pasta on top of the sauce, sprinkle with grated cheese.

 Give the remaining  bechamel a quick whisk and pour all of it, over the pasta.

Spread out evenly, with the back of a large spoon.

Traditional Greek pastitsio ready to go in oven Photo Greeker than the Greeks
Traditional Greek pastitsio ready to go in oven
Photo Greeker than the Greeks
It's all assembled and ready to go in the oven.

Bake for about twenty minutes, at 180 degrees C, or until the surface, is nicely browned.

Traditional Greek pastitsio - photo Greeker than the Greeks
Traditional Greek pastitsio - photo Greeker than the Greeks

Leave to cool completely before cutting into squares.

If you try to cut it, before it has cooled, it will just collapse on the plate, it needs to be cold to stand up, in a nice neat square.

If later on, after it has cooled, you heat it up again, it can be cut hot, and will keep its shape.

I don't know enough about science to tell you why!

Kali Orexi (Bonn appetit in Greek)

Kalanda: Carol Singing - Greek Christmas Traditions

Painting by Nikiphoros Lytras Kalanda 1872 This painting is used for the most popular Greek Christmas card.
Painting by Nikiphoros Lytras Kalanda 1872
This painting is used for the most popular of Greek Christmas cards.

Greek children, go out carol singing, on three specific days over Christmas:

Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and the Eve of Epiphany (5th January)

They go singing, door to door, early in the morning; very early !

Many times, have I had to open the door to them, before eight o clock , still in my dressing gown.

They knock on the door, shouting "Na ta poume?" (Shall we say it ), meaning "Shall we sing?",

 The singing is accompanied by a triangle, just randomly rattled, no tune at all!


Greek carol singing from another era
Greek carol singing from another era

Sometimes, following an old Greek tradition, they may be carrying a decorated Christmas  boat.

A decorated and illuminated boat is a traditional Greek symbol of Christmas, along with the Christmas tree.

A boat, decorated, for Greek Christmas
A boat, decorated, for Greek Christmas

Greek carol singers
Greek carol singers

The Greek word for carol is Kalanda, it comes from the Latin: the first day of the month.

Usually, you get to hear, just one song.

This is the English translation of it:

Good evening noblemen
If this is your will,
Christ’s holy birth
May I sing in your noble house
Christ is being born today
In the town of Bethlehem
Heavens rejoice
All of nature is happy.


Inside the cave (He) is being born
In a manger for horses
The King of all the universe
The Creator of everything.
A crowd of angels are singing,
“Ossana in excelsis”,
And holly is
The faith of the shepherds.


From Persia three magi arrive
With their gifts
A bright star shows them the way
Without any delay.


In this house we have come
May no stone ever crack
And the landlord
May live for many years.

Listen to this lovely version of it, and more Greek Christmas songs below.



After knocking on doors and singing the Kalanda around their neighborhoods, the children often go into  town, and sing  outside the shops, hoping for a few extra Euros.

 My children were very sly when they went carol singing (Encouraged by MGG, My Greek God, I might add)

They only went to family friend's and relative's houses, even if it meant quite a trek, here they were sure of a good reward!

The philosophy here being:

 Good friends and relatives, would be too embarrassed to give nothing, or only a few bits of change.

They knew that MGG would later ask them:

 "How much did uncle Yiannis give you?"

I am ashamed to tell you, that, their philosophy worked! (Or, should I say: MGG's philosophy?)

The cash they collected with their carol singing, was, an embarrassingly large amount!

On Christmas Eve, I shall be prepared to be up early, with a stack of Euros at hand.

More Greek Christmas Traditions

Recipes - Traditional Greek Christmas Sweets and Desserts - kourabiedes - Melomakarona - Diples - Baklava - Christopsomo

Traditional Greek Christmas desserts
Traditional Greek Christmas desserts

Christmas in Greece, as anywhere else in the world, involves large quantities of food.

In any Greek home, over the Christmas season, kourabides, melomakarona and dipples, can be found, piled high on plates, ready to be offered to any visitor that might drop by.

Maybe I should say, forced on, rather than offered!

Greek people are so hospitable, they love to look after you, and that means feeding you, whether you're hungry or not!

It is very difficult to refuse food, offered to you, by a Greek.

They just will not take no for an answer!

I must have eaten hundreds of  kourabiedes and melomakarona, the main Greek Christmas sweets, over my many Christmas's in Greece.

Luckily, I like them both, they're delicious.

Below are some recipes for these Greek Christmas treats, why not give them a try?  

I'm ashamed to say, I haven't tried making any of these, each Christmas, we are absolutely awash with  these sweets, given to us by  MGG's (My Greek God) large family, friends and neighbours.

I've chosen the sweet recipes from a reliable, Greek recipe site, My Greek Dish whatever I've cooked and baked, following their recipes, has turned out to be delicious.

The recipes don't seem too difficult, well, maybe the baklava, but I think it looks more time-consuming, rather than difficult.

For the Christopsomo, I chose the recipe from Kopiaste, another reliable Greek recipe site, again, whichever dishes you may decide to try from here, turn out a treat.

Kourabiedes

 Greek Christmas cookies, buttery and crumbly and dusted with icing sugar.

They remind me a bit, of English shortbread, but, softer.


Kourabiedes Photo My Greek Dish
Kourabiedes
Photo My Greek Dish

Easiest homemade Kourabiedes recipe by My Greek Dish

Ingredients


250g butter made from cow’s milk, cold (9 ounces) (unsalted)

150g almonds, roughly chopped or almond slivers, roasted (6 ounces)

50g almonds (whole) or almond slivers, raw (1.8 ounces). Alternatively you can also give pistachios a try

75g icing sugar (2.7 ounces)

1 tbsp rose water

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp baking powder

a pinch of salt

300g all-purpose flour (10.6 ounces)


Lots of icing sugar for powdering

Method

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Centigrade

  1. To prepare kourabiedes, start by roasting the almonds. Place the roughly chopped almonds (150g/ 6 ounces) or almond silvers on a baking tray and sprinkle with some water. Bake them for 7-8 minutes, until roasted, being careful not to burn them. Set aside or put in the fridge to cool.

    In a blender, add the raw almonds (50g/ 1.8 ounces) or the pistachios and blend, until powdered. Set aside.

    In a food processor, add the cold butter and sugar; mix for about 10 seconds, until the butter ‘breaks’ and is completely dissolved. Add the powdered almonds, a pinch of salt, the rosewater and the vanilla extract; mix for 10-20 seconds, until combined. At the end, add the baking powder and flour and mix again for 10-15 seconds.

    Place the mixture in a large bowl and add the roasted almonds; blend lightly with your hands. For the kourabiedes to remain fluffy, it is important that the butter doesn’t warm up and melt, so wait for a while for the roasted almonds to cool, before adding them to the butter mixture and wear plastic gloves, when blending with your hands, so that the temperature of your hands doesn’t warm up the butter.

    Layer the bottom of 2 baking trays with parchment paper and form the kourabiedes. Roll 1 tbsp of the dough into a ball, place on the baking tray and push with your finger in the middle, to form a little dimple. Continue with the rest of the dough.

    Place the baking trays with the kourabiedes in second and fourth rack of the oven and turn the heat down to 180C. Bake for approx. 18-20 minutes, until they have a very faint golden tint and are cooked through. Be careful not to overbake them. (Leave the kourabiedes aside to cool down for a while. If you try to lift them, while still warm, they will break.)
  2. Spray the kourabiedes with rosewater and sift with icing sugar.
  3. Melomakarona
  4.  Melomakarona, moist, spicy, full of honey and covered with chopped walnuts, never missing from any Greek Christmas table.
Melomakarona Photo My Greek Dish
Melomakarona
Photo My Greek Dish

Melomakarona recipe by My Greek Dish


       Ingredients for melomakarona


150g Fine semolina (5.3 ounces)

500g flour (soft) (17.6 ounces)

1/2 tbsp baking powder

100g orange juice (3.5 ounces)

3 tbsps cognac

100g sugar (3.5 ounces)

1 flat tbsp powdered cinnamon

1/3 tsp nutmeg (powder)

             1/3 tsp clove (powder)


          For the syrup



300g water (10 ounces)

600g sugar (20 ounces)

90g glucose (3 ounces)

2 cinnamon sticks

3 whole cloves

1 orange, cut in half


180g honey (7 ounces)

To garnish

200g chopped walnuts (7 ounces)

Powdered cinnamon (optional)

Powdered clove (optional)

Method

Preheat the oven at 180C. Layer the bottom of 2 baking trays with parchment paper and start shaping the melomakarona.

 Pinch a portion of dough about the size of a walnut/ 50g (or bigger, if you prefer) and shape with your palms into a smooth oblong shape, like a small egg.

 Place on the baking tray, push lightly the top with a fork and make some holes on top (not all the way down). Continue with the rest of the dough.

Place the baking trays with the melomakarona in the oven and bake for approx. 20 minutes, until the melomakarona are lightly browned and cooked through.

When the melomakarona come out of the oven, place them in the cold syrup, flipping them with a slotted spoon to absorb the syrup for approx, 10-20 seconds, depending on how syrupy you like them.

 (When syrupying the melomakarona it’s best do so in 2-3 batches). Remove the cookies using a slotted spoon, place on a platter and sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

Store the melomakarona at room temperature in an airtight container. They will last for all your Christmas Holidays!


Diples


 Diples, are a typical dessert in the Peloponnese,  made from thin sheets of dough, folded (hence the name "diples", which in Greek means, folded) and deep fried.

They're then sprinkled with chopped nuts, and drizzled with warm honey 


Diples Photo My Greek Dish
Diples
Photo My Greek Dish


       Diples recipe by My Greek Dish


      Ingredients


       2 level tbsps sugar

       2 level tbsps baking soda

350-400g all-purpose flour (12-14 ounces)

5 eggs (divided into yolks and whites)

Juice of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 orange

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1/2 cup corn oil

A pinch of salt


Vegetable oil for frying


For the syrup


1/4 of a cup sugar

1/4 of cup water

1/2 cup honey

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 cinnamon stick

150g chopped walnuts, for garnish (5 ounces)


Method


Place the egg whites into the bowl of the electric mixer, along with a pinch of salt. Make sure your egg whites, bowl and whisk attachments are clean and free of any water.

 Whisk the egg whites until the mixture is very thick and glossy and a long trailing peak forms when the whisk is lifted (meringues).

Add the egg yolks one at a time, whilst mixing; wait for each one to be absorbed, before adding another.

 In a cup add the orange and lemon juice and baking soda and blend, until dissolved and pour in the egg mixture. Add the white wine vinegar and the sugar and mix.

Pour the mixture in a large bowl or basin and sift in the flour; add the oil and knead the dough using your hands, until smooth and elastic, and not sticky (if it is sticky, add some more flour).

Separate the dough in four pieces, cover with some plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Using a rolling pin, roll out each part of the dough into thin rectangle sheets. Now you have to make a decision, whether you want to go the easy or the hard way!

Diples get their name from the Greek word for “fold.” This means that you have to fold them, so if you have the time, go for the traditional version.
 Using a roller cutter, cut the rolled out dough into rectangular pieces (approx. 12×25 cm).

 Heat the oil in a deep frying pan, until shimmering but not smoking hot.

 Place a cut dough sheet in the hot oil.

 Using two large cooking forks, and placing the edge between the tines of the fork, hold the end furthest away from you and roll the sheet away from you.

 Hold it a little with the fork in the oil, until coloured and place on some kitchen paper to drain. Repeat with the rest. (It’s best to cut all the diples before you begin frying.)

For the easy version, using a rolling cutter, cut the rolled out dough into rectangular pieces (approx. 10x5cm) or square pieces (8×8 cm).

 Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and deep fry the diples in batches of 3-4 at a time, depending on the how large is the pan, pushing them down with a fork and flipping them sides, until coloured.

 Place on some kitchen paper to drain and repeat with the rest.
Prepare the syrup for the diples. Pour in a pot all the syrup ingredients and bring to the boil; boil for 5 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved (do not stir the syrup).

Place the diples on a serving platter and drizzle with the syrup (or if you like them extra syrupy, soak each one in the syrup for a few seconds). Sprinkle with ground walnuts and cinnamon.

Alternatively, just warm up the honey, drizzle the diples and garnish with chopped walnuts.


Baklava


Baklava, a mixture of chopped nuts, honey and spices, spread between layers of crisp filo pastry and soaked in a lemony syrup.


Baklava Photo My Greek Dish
Baklava
Photo My Greek Dish

     Baklava recipe by My Greek Dish

          For the baklava

25-30 sheets of phyllo dough

500g (17 oz.) walnuts, chopped (or a mix of walnuts, pistachios and almonds)

2 tsps cinnamon powder

2 tsps grounded clove

300g butter, melted (10 oz.)

Some whole cloves for garnish (optional)

            For the syrup

600g sugar (20 oz.)

400g water (14 oz.)

80g glucose or honey (2.8 oz.)

Zest of 1 lemon or orange


1 cinnamon stick

             Method


To prepare this baklava recipe, start by melting the butter in a saucepan over low heat, being careful not to burn it.

 Using a cooking brush, butter the bottom and sides of a baking pan. (For this baklava recipe you will need a large baking pan approx. 40 - 30cm). Begin by layering the sheets of phyllo on the bottom of the baking dish to form the base of the baklava.

 Layer the sheets one at a time, making sure to sprinkle each one with melted butter. Use about 10-12 layers on the bottom side of the Baklava.

In a large bowl, mix the chopped nuts, the cinnamon and grounded clove. Sprinkle the nut mixture over the phyllo base and continue forming the top of the baklava.

 Top the nuts with the rest phyllo sheets (10 of them), sprinkling each one with melted butter and brush the top of the baklava with enough butter. You could also try layering the Baklava, adding a couple of sheets in between layers of filling if you’d like your baklava with extra nuts!

Place the baklava in the fridge for 15 minutes to make it easier to cut into pieces. Remove the baklava from the fridge and using a sharp knife cut the cut the pastry all the way down into pieces.

 If you fancy the taste of clove, place one whole clove berry into the middle of each baklava piece and sprinkle the top with some cold water.


Place the baklava in preheated oven at 150C on the lower rack (both top and bottom heating elements on) and bake for about 1 1/2- 2 hours, until all the phyllo layers are crisp and golden.

Prepare the syrup for the baklava.

 Into a small pot mix all the ingredients for the syrup and bring to the boil. Boil for about 2 minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Take it off the heat and let it cool down. As soon as the baklava is ready, ladle slowly the cold syrup over the hot baklava, until it is fully absorbed.

Let the baklava cool down completely and serve after the syrup has soaked in throughout.


Christopsomo


 Christ's bread, bread made with a sweet dough, and decorated with the sign of the cross, or X, the Greek sign for Christ, hence, Xmas.


Christopsomo-Christ's bread Photo Kopiaste
Christopsomo-Christ's bread
Photo Kopiaste


There are many different customs for christopsomo, some families, decorate it with family initials, or with symbols of family professions.

Some families, leave pieces of christopsomo on the table when going to bed, believing that Christ will visit, and eat it.

Another custom, is that the father or head of the family, holds the whole loaf, above his head, and breaks it in half with his hands.

He then inspects it, if the piece in his right hand is the largest, the coming year will be full of luck, health and happiness for the family.

If the larger piece is in the left hand, well, things don't look so rosy for them!

Recipe Christopsomo by Kopiaste

Preheat oven at 180 degrees C


2 kilos bread flour or all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons dry yeast (18 grams)

1 cup lukewarm warm water (105F, 40C)

1 cup warm red dry wine

½ cup olive oil

½ cup orange juice

¼ cup  brandy

2 tsps grated orange zest

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup raisins

1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped or pine nuts

1 tablespoon pounded mastic resin or 1 tablespoon crushed anise seeds

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed

½ teaspoon cardamom seeds, crushed

              For the Topping

Milk

2 whole walnuts

sesame seeds

            Method

Mix the yeast with 1/2 cup of warm water and ¼ οf flour, stir until dissolved.
Cover with plastic membrane and clean napkins or even a small blanket and leave it to rest all evening.

Next day, in a large mixing bowl, sift 2/3 of the remaining flour and add salt.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture, the warm water and wine.

Mix until a soft dough forms, cover with plastic membrane and a damp towel, and set aside to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

Punch the dough down and knead for several minutes until any air pockets are gone. Sift in the remaining flour, add the oil, orange juice, brandy, and grated orange peel.
In a small bowl, mix the sugar, raisins, walnuts, pine nuts, mastic resin or anise, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cardamom and nutmeg until blended, and add to the dough.

Knead well until the dough is firm and doesn’t stick (about 10 minutes), cover, and allow to rise for 1/2 hour.

Line two 26 cm baking tins with parchment paper and lightly brush with oil.

 Shape the bread into two circular loaves, about 8 inches in diameter, keeping a fistful of dough for decoration.

 Pat the dough back into shape to rise.

 When risen, use the small pieces of dough to create designs… roll them out into strips and coil around whole walnuts pressed into the top, or make them into the shapes of your choice and place on top of the loaves.

 Cover with plastic membrane, a dry cloth and a damp cloth over that, and place in a warm place to rise again, until doubled in size.

Brush the bread with milk and scatter with sesame seeds.

 Bake for about 1 hour 15 minutes, depending on your oven.

Remove from oven and cool on a rack.

Preparation tip:


If it is a cold day, prepare a meal which needs to be baked in the oven. This way the kitchen will be warm and will enable the dough to rise.

Use a mortar and pestle to crush the anise seed, coriander, cardamom, cloves and mastic resin or an electric spice grinder.


Happy eating, and, if you make the christopsomo...

30 of the Most CREEPIEST and HAUNTED Places in Greece - Dare You Visit - Photos & Videos

Salem Mansion Thessaloniki Photo used as a poster for hit American TV Show, American Horror Story' Photo by Alexander Hadji ...

Take a peek at my most popular posts.