Monday, January 9, 2012

Pastitsio - pasta with warm winter spices!

For me, a winter comfort food would either be a soup or a casserole.  Not only are they generally big on flavor, but they are usually easy on the wallet.  I'm not talking about the Campbell soup casseroles either... you know, the type where you just open up a couple cans and throw in some rice or noodles.  While those will do in a pinch, they are not what I look for when I think comfort.  No, I'm talking about deep, full flavors.  This recipe for Pastitsio certainly fit the bill.  You have layers of tomato sauce that has just a hint of cinnamon and another layer that is more of a white sauce with a touch of nutmeg.  Incredibly easy and full of flavor, this is a casserole that makes you forget all about all the others!

2 lean ground beef
6 garlic cloves, minced and divided
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1/4 to 1/2 cup red wine (or water if you prefer)
1 pound penne pasta
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk (I used skim)
1 1/2 cups vegetable or beef broth (I used beef)
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Heat a pan over medium-high heat; add ground meat.  Cook until is browned.
Add Four of the minced garlic cloves, the cinnamon, oregano, pepper flakes and a
 generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Cook until fragrant and spices are 
well incorporated, about 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes, sauce and enough wine, or water,
 to make a sauce that is suitable to your taste but still not too thin. You will be
 layering the sauce as you would for a lasagna so keep in mind that thickness. 
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, partially covered,
 until sauce is thick and richly flavored, about 20 minutes.
Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

Microwave milk and broth in a quart measuring cup, cover lightly with plastic wrap
 and cook until steamy and hot.  How long this takes will depend on your microwave. 
 Mine only took 4 minutes.
In a medium saucepan; heat butter and remaining 2 cloves minced garlic until garlic
 is slightly golden.  Whisk in flour until well blended.  Pour in hot milk mixture while 
whisking vigorously until sauce is smooth and starts to thicken.  Stir in 1/2 cup of
 the Parmesan cheese and nutmeg; season to taste with salt and pepper. In a separate
 bowl, whisk together the two eggs; add a ladle full of the broth mixture to the eggs 
and whisk to combine.  Add the egg mixture to the remaining broth in the 
sauce pan and whisk to fully incorporate.
Add a ladle full of tomato sauce mixture to bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.  
Spread half of the pasta over the the pan and top with remaining tomato mixture; 
sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.
Top with remaining pasta and pour over the top the milk/broth mixture; 
cover top with remaining Parmesan cheese.
Cover pan with foil; bake 30 minutes.  Remove foil and turn oven to broil.  
Watching carefully, broil until tops is spotty brown, 3-5 minutes.  
Remove from oven and let stand to set 10-15 minutes.  Cut into portions and serve.
Yields: 8 serving

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