After just getting over the worst of a cold, I was in need of something to build up the strength and make me feel better. Good old fashioned comfort food doesn’t get much better than this Greek classic. Pastitsio is Greece’s answer to Italy’s lasagne. Rich, warm and cinnamon fragrant minced lamb and beef mixed with pasta and topped with a delicious creamy and cheesy bechamel sauce. Absolutely delicious and guaranteed to make anyone feel better. I’d bought way too much mince at the supermarket so I made double quantity and spread it over two large dishes. After cooking, I froze the rest for later use. This forethought turned out to be a life saver as the next day I received a houseful of guests on their way to the pub who all requested a feed. Still a little groggy from my cold, I instructed Brendan to heat them each a serving in the trusty microwave. Needless to say they went down a treat – and they finally left me in peace to my duvet and TV.

For the bechamel sauce:
60g butter
4 tablespoons plain flour
400ml milk
300ml cream
Big pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
50g grated parmesan
50g grated kasseri cheese (or mozzarella)
Salt & pepper
2 eggs (lightly beaten)

For the meat sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion (chopped)
3 garlic cloves (chopped)
500g beef mince
500g lamb mince
1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
200ml red wine
800g canned chopped tomatoes
350g pasta tubes
½ cup grated parmesan
½ cup grated kasseri cheese

To make the bechamel: In a saucepan, melt the butter until bubbling then stir in the flour. Cook for 1-2 minutes then gradually pour in the milk and cream, whisking constantly. Whisk in the cayenne pepper and nutmeg until you reach the consistency of double cream (about 2 minutes). Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan and cheddar until melted. Season with plenty of salt & pepper, cover and set aside to cool. Once it is just warm (about 20 minutes, whisk in the beaten eggs. Cover and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large pan with the oil over a moderate heat until just hot. Gently fry the onion for 3-4 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the beef and lamb minces and cook for 5 minutes until all is browned. Add the cinnamon, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper and stir well before adding the wine and letting it sizzle for a minute. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook the meat for 15 minutes until the mix is soft and unctuous.

Preheat oven to 170ºC.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the pasta to the packet instructions minus 2 minutes to ensure it’s a little underdone. Drain well then stir into the meat sauce. Tip the meat and pasta into a large ovenproof baking dish and smooth into a thick layer. Pour over the bechamel sauce and smooth out. Sprinkle with the parmesan and fontina cheeses and a sprinkling of pepper. Bake uncovered for 40-50 minutes until the top is a rich golden brown colour.

Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Serve in a big old wedge with some green salad.

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