There is nothing special about this. I’m not a chef nor am I an exceptional, super refined, make everything look awesome type of cook. I just have an absolute love of how food makes me feel.
My mother began her work as a domestic at The Freemasons Hospital in Melbourne in the 1950s – without a word of English, she cleaned, mopped, swept and changed sheets on beds – she pushed trolleys and was always on time for work and never missed a day. Her boss liked her and promoted her to the kitchen.
There weren’t any Greeks working in the kitchen so mum learned to speak English very quickly. My grandmother was a wonderful cook and had taught my mother a thing or two about food. Mum was pretty disgusted with the quality of food and how it was being prepared at the hospital. She remembers quite clearly a day when she became very frustrated watching the cook trying to make a simple dish – with very little English and a lot of nerve, mum pushed the cook aside and took over the preparation of the dish – she became the head cook there with no qualifications and not being able to read or write a single word in English. They just told her what was to be prepared and she did it…and she did it for the next 30 years!
She had her photo taken and published in the newspaper in the 1970s with the Prime Minister of the time (Malcolm Fraser) who was in that hospital for an operation and was genuinely shocked with the quality of the food – he asked to meet the cook as hospital food is never good and wanted to know who was preparing his meals. Of course his meals were being specially prepared for him – by my mother and a very small team of people – you couldn’t dish up the same crap you gave to the common folk now could you!
So, this is how my love for food began – I watched mum and listened and shopped with her. She taught me to make this when I was about 8 years old – I had to make the béchamel sauce and I remember the milk splattering all over me and mum telling me ‘a little at a time’ and ‘whisk gently until combined…now add more…’ always grate fresh nutmeg in’… sometimes she would slap my hand and take the whisk and say “watch – learn!”
So, mum had come over on Tuesday and we had lunch and a glass of wine together and I made this while she was at my place and gave her half to take home to share with dad. Yes, it would have been much easier for dad to come over to eat as this is not easy to cut up while it’s hot but as dad said… “Nah, can’t be arsed moving from the couch – Greek news is on – send some home will ya!” – Yep, that’s my dad!
It’s pure comfort food and reminds me of my childhood.
I guess there is something very special about this after all.
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- ground beef (or ground lamb, or a mixture of both)
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 bottle tomato puree/pasata
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (or Kefalotyri if available)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 pkg. #2 Macaroni for Pastitsio. You can substitute with rigatoni or penne. I used these shell like ones because that’s what I had.
- 4 egg whites (reserve the yolks for bechamel sauce)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- For the bechamel sauce:
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 litre milk, warmed
- 8 egg yolks, beaten lightly
- a pinch or two of ground nutmeg
Begin with the Meat Filling:
Heat olive oil in a large saute pan. Add ground beef and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until they are translucent, about 5 minutes more.
Add wine, tomato sauce, parsley, allspice, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and allow sauce to simmer over low heat for about 20 – 30 mins. I really like to cook it down and not too watery at all. While sauce is simmering put water on to boil for pasta.
Cook pasta noodles according to package directions and drain well. Rinse noodles in colander under cold water to cool them slightly.
Melt 1/2 cup butter in pasta pot and return cooked noodles to the pot. Stir in beaten egg whites and 1 cup of grated cheese and toss lightly, being careful not to break the noodles.
Brush the bottom and sides of the lasagna pan with olive oil. Layer the bottom with half the pasta noodles and press down so that they are somewhat flat.
Add the meat filling in an even layer to the pasta. Top with remaining pasta noodles and flatten top layer as best you can.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C degrees while you prepare the béchamel sauce.
Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Using a whisk, add flour to melted butter whisking continuously to make a smooth paste or roux. Allow the flour/butter mixture to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown.
Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens but does not boil.
Remove from heat and stir in beaten egg yolks. Add pinch of nutmeg. If sauce still needs to thicken, return to heat and cook over very low heat while continuing to stir.
One way to tell if the béchamel sauce is thick enough is to dip your wooden spoon in the sauce and draw your finger across the back of the spoon. If the sauce holds a visible line then it is thick enough.
Pour the bechamel over the pasta noodles making sure to pour sauce down in to the corners as well. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan (or Greek equivalent) cheese. Bake in 180C degree oven for approximately 45 minutes or until the top is a nice golden color.