Pastitsio

Greek Pastitsio or Pastichio is Greek comfort food at its best! This Greek layered casserole dish is compromised of luscious layers- pasta layers, an aromatic meat sauce layer, and a lusciously creamy and thick bechamel sauce.

Of all of the Greek comfort foods, pastitsio is the absolute best, no contest. Pastitsio is definitely up there as one of my favourite dishes of all. This Greek layered casserole dish is hearty, delicious, and guaranteed to please.

I know I am biased as a Greek girl, but honestly, when you see those wonderful thick layers of pasta, meat sauce and the most luscious bechamel, how can you not swoon?

Totally swoon worthy!

What is Pastitsio?

If you haven’t heard of pastitsio (thank goodness we are rectifying that right now!), you have likely heard of its cousin Moussaka, an iconic and ultra popular Greek layered casserole dish. While these dishes are distinct, an easy way to think of pastitsio is similar to a moussaka except that the veggie layers have been replaced with pasta.

Pastitsio is a layered pasta dish that is comprised of 4 different layers. Two pasta layers using tubular pasta or bucatini, a meat sauce which is sandwiched between those pasta layers and the topping comprised of a thick, creamy bechamel layer. Each layer is thick and distinct and because of that, you get to truly appreciate each tasty element of a pastitsio in every bite.

A slice of Pastitsio on a white plate.

This decadent dish is a favourite main course dinner recipe but it is not uncommon to see it served up as a side dish for celebrations. I can’t think of a party without a pan of pastitsio included in the buffet line! Any excuse to make and eat this dish is a good one!

The recipe I am sharing with you is based on my mom’s recipe. It has always been my absolute favourite and there is really nothing I would do to change this recipe. It is perfection!

Topview of a pan of baked pastitsio.

Layers in Pastitsio

There are 4 layers in pastitsio (3 different types of layers but the pasta layer is repeated twice). The order they are in from top to bottom as you would see them in a slice are as follows:

  1. Bechamel and mitzithra layer (the top layer).
  2. Pasta layer.
  3. Meat sauce layer.
  4. Pasta layer (bottom layer).
Closeup of a slice of pastitsio showing all of the layers.

How to make authentic Greek Pastitsio

To make this recipe, you will need to prepare 3 different types of layers and then assemble them. Essentially, this recipe comes down to these steps:

  1. Make the meat sauce.
  2. Prepare the pasta layers.
  3. Make the creamy bechamel.
  4. Assemble and bake!

The full instructions are in the recipe card at the end of this post but I have included step by step instructions and photos to help you bake up this delicious meal!

Make the aromatic meat sauce:

The first step when making pastitsio is to make the meat sauce so that it has time to cool while you prep the other layers. To make the meat sauce:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet pan over medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Saute for 2-3 minutes until they begin to soften.
  2. Add the ground beef and brown it, breaking up any large chunks as you stir and cook it.
  3. Once the beef is browned, add the tomato paste, cinnamon stick, parsley, salt and pepper to the meat. Add the water and bring the meat sauce to a boil, stirring frequently until the water evaporates and the meat is cooked. Remove the cinnamon stick, set aside and let cool.
Steps to Make Meat Sauce for Pastitsio

Prepare the pasta layers:

  1. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions and then drain.
  2. Place the drained pasta back in the pot and add the mitzithra (or parmesan) and egg whites, tossing to coat the pasta.
Photo collage showing a pot of boiled bucatini pasta and a second photo of the drained pasta tossed with egg whites and mitzithra cheese.

Make the bechamel:

  1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour, stirring until it makes a thick paste or roux. Add the milk slowly, whisking continuously as you do so. Whisk until the béchamel sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, then remove it from the heat. Whisk in the egg yolks, mizithra, salt and nutmeg.
  2. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes while you assemble the pastitsio.
Photo collage showing how to make bechamel sauce.

Assemble and Bake the Pastitsio:

  1. Place half of the pasta into the greased baking pan and arrange them so that they are evenly spread.
  2. Spread the meat sauce layer on top of the pasta, spreading it to make an even layer.
  3. Add the remaining pasta on top of the meat sauce layer.
  4. Spread the béchamel on top of the pasta layer, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle bread crumbs and mitzithra over top of the béchamel.
  5. Bake the pastitsio in the oven for 45 minutes or until a nice golden crust forms. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes so it can set before slicing.
Photo collage showing how to assemble the pastitsio layers.
Closeup topview of a baked pastitsio with a golden crust.

Tips and substitutions:

  • Prep in advance: This recipe is easy enough to do but does include quite a few steps. If you are short on time, you can absolutely prep this dish in advance. See notes in the next section on how you can prep different components or the entire dish.

  • Substitute different pasta: I make this recipe using a Greek bucatini pasta. I like the Misko brand no. 2 pasta but Misko also has other size options too. You can find this Greek pasta option in Greek delis and bakeries or the ethnic section of many grocery stores (that’s where I get mine). You can also use an Italian style bucatini pasta or even penne pasta.
Misko No. 2 bucatini pasta noodle package.
  • Substitute different cheeses: In this recipe I use grated mitzithra cheese but often substitute Parmesan cheese if I don’t have any on hand. You can also use grated Greek Kefalotiri cheese, Kefalograviera, or Romano cheese.

Can you prep pastitsio in advance?

Since pastitsio is comprised of 3 different layers and can take some time to bake up, you can easily cut down on this time by prepping in advance. This is especially handy if you are serving this up at a party. Prepping the pastitsio can happen in a few different ways.

  • Option 1: Prepare the meat sauce in advance. Making the meat sauce a day in advance is an easy way to make this recipe much easier to assemble! After prepping the meat sauce, let it cool and then place in a bowl, cover with food wrap and refrigerate. The next day when you are assembling, your meat sauce is ready to go and all you have to do is boil the pasta and make the bechamel! I do recommend you warm up your meat sauce the next day so it is a bit looser and easier to spread.

  • Option 2: Assemble the entire pastitsio the night before. Another option is to make the entire pastistio, layers and all, the day before and then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The next day, you remove the plastic wrap, pop it in the oven and bake it up. If you are doing this, I recommend using a metal pan. Since you will be placing a cold pan into a hot oven, the last thing you want is to have your dish shatter and ruin your delicious meal!

  • Option 3: Bake the entire pastitsio in advance. This option works great for meal prepping whether its for a family dinner or a party. You can bake up the entire pastistio, allow it to cool completely and then cover it and place it in the fridge. The next day, you just need to reheat it until it is completely warmed through. You can choose to warm up as many slices as you need or the entire casserole. Again, if you are reheating the entire dish, I recommend using a metal pan for this option for the same reason as option 2.

Can you freeze Pastitsio?

Yes, you can definitely freeze pastitsio. Whether you have leftover pastitsio or you are purposely baking this up to have some freezer meals ready to go for the future, it can easily be frozen.

To freeze pastitsio, allow the baked casserole to cool completely. Then slice it to make individual portions and place those portions in freezer safe containers.

To thaw and reheat pastitsio, thaw it in the fridge from the night before. Then place the slice(s) on a baking tray and heat them up in the oven at 325F until they are completely warmed through.

What to serve with pastitsio

Since this dish is satisfying and filling, all you really need to serve with it is a salad! Traditional Greek Salad is my favourite, but any side salad is a great option! Grilled, roasted or sauteed vegetables is another great option.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do! Kali orexi (bon appetit)!

-Cathy

A slice of pastitsio on a white plate.

You may also like these other Greek recipes:

Moussaka
Papoutsakia (Greek Stuffed Eggplant)
Prasopita (Greek Leek Pie)
Pressure-Cooker Chicken Youvetsi (Chicken and Orzo in Tomato Sauce)

If you try and enjoy this recipe, I would love to hear about it! Leave a rating and/or comment below to let me know what you think!

This post was updated on August 15, 2022 with improved instructions and photographs.

A slice of Pastitsio on a white plate.

Pastitsio

Herbs and Flour
Greek Pastitsio or Pastichio is Greek comfort food at its best! This Greek layered casserole dish is compromised of luscious layers- pasta layers, an aromatic meat sauce layer, and a lusciously creamy and thick bechamel sauce.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course Dinner
Cuisine Greek
Servings 12
Calories 457 kcal

Ingredients
  

Meat Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic minced (optional)
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons parsley chopped

Pasta

  • 3/4 package Greek bucatini pasta (375g), (I use Misko No. 2)
  • 1 cup grated mitzithra or Parmesan cheese
  • 3 egg whites (reserve yolks for the bechamel)

Béchamel Sauce

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 5 cups milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons grated mitzithra or Parmesan cheese

Topping

  • 2 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons grated mitzithra or Parmesan cheese

Instructions
 

  • Lightly grease a deep 9×13 or similar sized pan with olive oil or butter and set aside.

Meat Sauce

  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet pan over medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Saute for 2-3 minutes until they begin to soften.
  • Add the ground beef and brown it, breaking up any large chunks as you stir and cook it.
  • Once the beef is browned, add the tomato paste, cinnamon stick, parsley, salt and pepper to the meat. Add the water and bring the meat sauce to a boil, stirring frequently until the water evaporates and the meat is cooked. Remove the cinnamon stick, set aside and let cool.

Pasta

  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions and then drain.
  • Place the drained pasta back in the pot and add the mitzithra (or parmesan) and egg whites, tossing to coat the pasta.

Béchamel

  • In a large saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour, stirring until it makes a thick paste or roux. Add the milk slowly, whisking continuously as you do so. Whisk until the béchamel sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, then remove it from the heat. Whisk in the egg yolks, mizithra, salt and nutmeg.
  • Let the mixture cool for a few minutes while you begin to assemble the pastitsio.

Assemble the pastitsio and bake:

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Place half of the pasta into the greased baking pan and arrange them so that they are evenly spread.
  • Spread the meat sauce layer on top of the pasta, spreading it to make an even layer.
  • Add the remaining pasta on top of the meat sauce layer.
  • Spread the béchamel on top of the pasta layer, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle bread crumbs and mitzithra over top of the béchamel.
  • Bake the pastitsio in the oven for 45 minutes or until a nice golden crust forms. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes so it can set before slicing.

Nutrition

Calories: 457kcalCarbohydrates: 37gProtein: 20gFat: 25gSaturated Fat: 12gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 114mgSodium: 365mgPotassium: 394mgFiber: 2gSugar: 7gVitamin A: 643IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 249mgIron: 2mg
Keyword bechamel, greek food, meat sauce
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

2 Comments

  1. Sounds great except for the cinnamon. I’m not a very good Greek. I hate cinnamon in savory dishes

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