Greece is the word. Part 1: Pasticcio

I think Greek food is underrated. It’s such a shame because, at it’s best, it takes the fantastic ingredients the country has available and uses them to simple, unpretentious effect.

Some of the best food I’ve ever had has been in Greece; plain grilled prawns eaten straight off a newspaper-covered taverna table, throwing the shells into a bucket; freshly caught ‘Barbounia’ barbecued by the sea and eaten with your fingers and all of those amazing dishes selected from the laminated, misspelt old menus featuring faded photos of the dishes taken in c. 1979 – spiced loukaniko sausages, octopus in vinegar, salty grilled Saganaki cheese, proper oregano-spiked lamb Souvlaki and Horiatiki salad with chewy, crusty country bread. Delicious.

But unfortunately a lot of people only experience the worst of Greek food – the tourist food – overcooked kebabs, flaccid moussaka and plasticky taramasalata. Hideous? Yes, of course – but all destinations have equivalent touristy fare. I’ve endured deeply underwhelming pasta in Rome, terrible Borscht in Moscow, a very average baguette in Paris and my boyfriend never ceases to be disappointed by the quality of most fish and chips in Britain.

So, in the hope that people give Greek food another chance, I’m going to do a couple of Greek recipes in the next few weeks to show off a bit about a style of food that’s cheap, healthy and pretty delicious actually.

And if you need further inspiration have a look at these Greek Food blogs:
– (American lady who does some Greek food but lots of other good things too)

Pasticcio is a good place to start – it’s really the Lasagne of The Greeks. This is my interpretation of Pasticcio – maybe it’s not 100% authentic – but I think it’s 100% delicious. I’ve been a bit rough with my measurements here because it really depends on the size of your dish – you need a really deep oven-proof dish for this one otherwise you’ll over flow and be cleaning the oven for days….

Around 750g of  good quality minced beef and pork
A couple of cloves of garlic
A finely chopped onion
Couple of bayleaves
Half a bottle of red wine
About half a teaspoon of ground cloves
A cinnamon stick
A teaspoon of dried oregano
A squeeze of tomato puree
A tin of tomatoes
A couple of eggs beaten
Enough rigatoni/penne pasta for one thick layer in your dish
Plain flour
Big knob of butter
A couple of pints of milk
2 big handfuls of kefalotyri cheese (or a sharp pecorino if you can’t get it).

In a big saucepan fry off the onions and garlic in a little butter. Crumble the minced meat into the onion mixture browning it over a medium to high heat. Add the bayleaves, cloves, cinnamon and oregano and tomato puree and stir well. Slosh in the wine, the tin of tomatoes and then fill the empty tin with water and add that too. Then turn the heat down as low as possible and leave to bubble gently to itself for as long as you’ve got – a couple of hours is good.

Then make a basic cheese sauce. Melt a big knob of butter in a saucepan and add a couple of spoons of plain flour stirring to form a thick paste. Add the milk little by little stirring all the while to incorporate the floury mixture. When you have a thick-ish sauce add a handful of the cheese and stir to melt.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions.

To assemble: add half the cheese sauce to the pasta along with the beaten eggs. Stir well to combine. Pour two thirds of the sauce/egg coated pasta into a well-buttered, deep dish. Pour the spiced meat onto the pasta and then cover with the final third of the pasta. Pour on the remaining cheese sauce and spinkle with the remaining cheese. So it looks something like this:

Then pop it in the oven at about 220 degrees for about 40 minutes (but check after half an hour) until it is golden, bubbling and crispy on the top. Something like this:
Enjoy with a mound of green salad and a nice glass of red wine.

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