PASTITSIO

From a VERY nice lady called Popi Sefertsi who Stu met in Thessaloniki once ages ago (probably from Popi's Mum, originally)

Main Ingredients:

Minced lamb1 1/2 lb.700 g.
Onions1 large
Green peppers1 medium
Tomatoes (ripe)1 lb500 g.
Garlic6 cloves
Mushrooms1/4 lb100 g.
Oregano1 tblsp
Cilantrobunch
Salt/pepperto taste
Macaroni3/4 lb.300 g.

Bechamel topping ingredients:

Butter1/4 lb.1 stick120 g.
Flour5 oz1 cup140 g.
Milk1 1/2 pints5 cups1 litre
Eggs4
White pepper1 tsp
Saltto taste30 g

Method:

Make the basic meat sauce much the same as you would a spaghetti sauce. Chop the onion and green pepper rather fine and sauté them with the meat until all those ingredients are almost cooked.

Peel the tomatoes if you're using fresh ones rather than canned (scald in boiling water to make this task possible). Add the tomatoes, garlic, and oregano. Once the tomatoes cook down it should be a wetter sauce than would be considered proper for spaghetti. If not, add stock or water.

Put your macaroni on to cook in salted water.

When the sauce is almost cooked, add the mushrooms finely sliced. Sometimes the mushrooms contribute quite a bit of liquid.

When the sauce is completely cooked (perhaps 45 min in all) adjust seasoning and add the cilantro, chopped fine. The cilantro will look like A LOT.

STRAIN the sauce in a sieve or fine colander and reserve the liquid.

STRAIN the completely cooked macaroni, and combine with the meat mixture. Mix together thoroughly and cram into a flat baking dish or pan. Tamp down flat, leaving about an inch (2 cm.) for the topping.

TOPPING:

If you already know about bechamel: Make a lot of bechamel and dump it on top of the meat/macaroni substrate. Skip.

If you don't: Melt the butter cautiously in a thick-bottomed saucepan. Add the flour and stir in. Raise the heat to maximum. The butter/flour roux should end up separating from the sides of the saucepan as you stir.

Begin adding the milk a little at a time, stirring each ration of milk in THOROUGHLY before adding the next. It should end up somewhat runny, because the eggs are going to thicken it.

Add salt and white pepper, and reduce the heat to simmer while you beat the eggs VERY thoroughly -- I recommend an electric whisk to get them all foamy.

Take the roux off the heat and stir in the eggs. Pour your finished bechamel onto the meat/macaroni substrate.

Bake at 375degF (200degC, Gas mark 5) until the entire top turns golden brown. This takes from 30 to 45 minutes.

SAUCE:

Make another roux, this time a brown roux, and add back the liquid you strained off the meat sauce. Adjust to a delicious-tasting thick sauce.

The quantity depends entirely on how much liquid your original sauce yielded. Aim for about 1/8th the amount of roux, and use vegetable oil instead of butter.

For the uninitiated, you make a brown roux the same as a white one, but using more oil in relation to the flour so that the flour cooks in the hot oil to a chestnut brown. It will get VERY hot!

Cut into rectangles for serving. Take the brown sauce to the table piping hot in a gravy boat.


Notes and Substitutions

Popi Sefertsi is now married and living in New York. Some lucky guy gets her cooking every night.

Beef is not much used in Greek cuisine, but you can substitute minced beef for the lamb if you must.

The green pepper is a capsicum -- NOT a chili.

Tinned tomatoes are perfectly OK and may be a better bet if you can't get really nice ripe ones (i.e. if you live in the USA).

Greek oregano is WONDERFUL and has a stronger flavour than the Italian type. It's worth hunting for (we find it in some supermarkets here in California).

The flour does not need to be "self-raising" -- i.e. have baking powder in it.

The dish we use is glass, measuring 12" x 8" (30 cm x 20 cm) and nearly 2" (5 cm) deep. But a metal roasting pan is commonly used in Greek kitchens. We couldn't quite imagine doing pastitsio in a circular dish but it wouldn't spoil the flavour.

With the quantities given here, you'll have leftovers if you're serving less than six adults. Believe it or not, it's great cold the next day. You eat it like cake, in your fingies.

Preparation time:

At least 2 hours.

Wine suggestion:

Greek retsina (which is white and an "acquired taste") is ideal. The red Demestica is also authentic. Failing Greek wine, any cheapo white table wine will do.