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Pastitsio (Greek Lasagna)

Authentic Pastitsio, or Greek lasagna ~ layers of pasta, cinnamon-laced beef, Kasseri cheese and béchamel.

Sideview of slice of pastitsio.

Authentic Greek food.  I love it all, from the Greek festivals here in St. Louis to Greektown back home in Chicago.  And you’ll love this pastitsio.  But first, I have to fill you in on where I got this recipe, or moreover, how I learned to make authentic Greek pastitsio.

Pastitsio is Greek comfort food, pasta layered with meat, cheese and béchamel sauce.  Picky Eater loves pastitsio.  Come to think of it, I think the whole family likes it.  We’ve had it numerous times at the Greek church Friday luncheons, and I’ve made it a couple of times over the past 20 years or so.  Then I got this version, authentic home cooked Greek grandma pastitsio!

Overhead photo of pastitsio baked in pan.

I substitute teach at our high school and a few weeks ago I was chatting with another sub on our off hour.  Our daughters just graduated and started college this fall.  We talked nonstop about the girls and college and food, mainly Greek food.  Flora and her family are Greek and she was telling me all about the dishes she makes and where she gets her ingredients.  It was just a great conversation, I really like Flora, and her daughter, Thalia.

Several days after our gabfest, I received an email from Flora.  Her pastitsio recipe!  This kind of stuff super excites me.  When somebody shares how to make an authentic, classic dish like pastitsio that she learned from her grandmother, well, need I say more?  I am blown away with how good it is.  I get a little excited about good food, I know.  Our house smelled like Greektown when it was baking in the oven.

So, let’s get started.  The meat mixture is flavored with cinnamon and tomato sauce.  Flora said let it stew for 3 hours and make it the day before.  That’s what I did.  It is ground beef and I used ground sirloin.  No lamb, so if that’s what you’ve heard, sorry, not here.

What are pastitsio noodles?

Pastitsio noodles and kasseri cheese wedge.

The pastitsio noodles are long tubes of pasta.  I found these at a local specialty grocer.  If you can’t find, I have used mostaccioli noodles as a good substitute (not penne, with the ridges).

What is Kasseri cheese?

And the cheese.  Here’s where I get weak in the knees.  Kasseri cheese.  It’s Greek, duh.  Again, I got mine at the same specialty grocer.  A good substitute would be asiago, and Flora said you can also use an Italian blend.  But I used kasseri and couldn’t stop eating it as I was grating it.  I’m pretty sure it’s the same cheese, or very similar, to what they use in Greektown for saganaki, the oopah! flaming cheese that’s an institution in Chicago Greek restaurants.  If you can find it, definitely use kasseri cheese.

Grated kasseri cheese.

How to layer pastitsio

The pastitsio is finished off with a layer of béchamel sauce, which is butter, flour, milk and eggs, cooked until thick and creamy.  Béchamel scares people but it really isn’t hard to make and Flora’s béchamel is the best I’ve ever made.  And then melted butter is drizzled all over the béchamel layer with some kasseri cheese, lord, have mercy.  According to Flora, this is what makes it brown when it bakes.  All I know is that it was crazy rich and good and browned on top.  Layer like this: noodles, cheese, meat mixture and more cheese, béchamel and more cheese and melted butter.

Noodle and cheese layers.

Meat and cheese layers.

Adding béchamel layer, then more cheese and melted butter.

So, that’s it folks.  Lasagna of any kind is a bit labor intensive but so worth it.  Making the sauce a day ahead helps, and it’s way better the next day anyway.  Then it’s just the béchamel, grating the cheese and layering the pastitsio.  Not hard at all.  If you like Greek food, want to try making it at home, try this, you will love it.  Next time I see Flora, I’m asking for the spanakopita recipe from her mother-in-law.  Hope she shares that also.  Best, Kelly🍴🐦

Baked pastitsio in pan showing layers.

Two other lasagna recipes you might also like on the blog, my mom’s classic lasagna and pumpkin lasagna.

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UPDATED April 28, 2019: no changes to original recipe, just spiffed things up a bit.

Sideview of slice of pastitsio.

Pastitsio (Greek Lasagna)

Authentic Pastitsio, or Greek lasagna ~ layers of pasta, cinnamon-laced beef, Kasseri cheese and béchamel.
4.93 from 14 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine: Greek
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours 45 minutes
Total Time: 5 hours
Servings: 12
Author: Kelly ~ the hungry bluebird (my friend Flora's family recipe)

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • coarse kosher salt
  • 1 package pastitsio noodles, or mostaccioli
  • 1/2 pound or more kasseri cheese, grated, about 4 cups (or asiago or an Italian blend) ~ Flora uses a lot of cheese, like a pound!)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 5 1/2 cups whole milk

Instructions

  • Make the meat sauce one day ahead. In a large pot, add a little olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt, cook until onions are just translucent. Add the ground beef and cook and stir until no longer pink, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Add the 2 cans of tomato sauce and cinnamon, stir and bring to a simmer. Season with salt to taste. Let meat sauce stew for 3 hours, yes, for 3 hours with a lid on, slightly askew. Stir occasionally. Let cool and then refrigerate overnight.
  • Bring sauce to room temperature or warm gently before layering the pastitsio. Grate the kasseri cheese and set aside, you want at least 4 cups.
  • Cook noodles in boiling salted water until al dente (I cook a minute or two less than package directions). Drain noodles and when cool enough to handle, put them in a large bowl and mix one beaten egg into the pastitsio noodles with your hands.
  • Preheat oven to 350º. In a lasagna pan, or other large pan, drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom or coat lightly with cooking spray. Put all of the noodles which were tossed with egg in the bottom of the pan and arrange evenly. Sprinkle with a third of the shredded cheese. Using a slotted spoon, cover the noodles and cheese evenly with all or most of the meat mixture, leaving room for the béchamel layer on top. Sprinkle another third of the cheese over the meat layer. You now have noodles, cheese, meat, cheese layered so far.
  • Make the béchamel sauce. In a heavy bottomed large pot, melt 1 stick of butter. Add the flour to the melted butter and whisk to combine well and cook, stirring constantly for a minute or two. Slowly add 5 cups of milk, whisking the whole time. Cook and whisk until it just starts to boil, when it starts to bubble. Turn off heat.
  • In a separate bowl, beat 3 eggs and 1/2 cup milk with a hand mixer. Add this mixture to the pot, slowly, whisking the whole time.
  • Put back on medium-high heat and cook and whisk until thick and bubbly. When at the desired consistency, cut the heat and let the béchamel sit for a few minutes.
  • In a small sauce pan, melt 1/2 stick of butter. After the béchamel has rested a few minutes, pour it over the meat and cheese layer, spreading evenly over the top. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the béchamel. Lastly, drizzle or spoon the melted butter on top of the cheese, this is what will brown the top of the pastitsio. (Okay, Flora says to use a stick of melted butter. Too much I think, especially for my pan size. But that is what she says to use.)
  • Place pan on a baking sheet and then into preheated oven and bake for 1 hour, until browned and center is hot. If not browned enough, after 1 hour, turn on broiler and cook another 3 - 5 minutes, watching carefully until top is browned.
  • Let pastitsio rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Notes

  • The sauce takes 3 hours to simmer and is best refrigerated overnight
  • Assembling the pastitsio takes about 30 - 45 minutes
  • Baking time is about 1 hour and then it needs to rest a bit
  • Use a very large pan, I used a 12 by 18-inch baking pan.
  • Flora says you can halve the recipe for a smaller pan.
Keyword: pastitsio, Greek lasagna, authentic Greek lasagna recipe
Did you make this recipe? Please comment, rate it and share! And mention me on Instagram @thehungrybluebird or tag #thehungrybluebird so I can see!

*Adapted from my friend Flora’s grandmother and Flora’s own tweaks to the recipe.

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Recipe Rating




Kammy

Wednesday 2nd of September 2020

Found your recipe via Pintrest. We totally missed our local Greek festival this year due to Covid, and are suffering. I had 3 recipes for Pastitsio, and none of them were great. I threw them all out after trying yours! We shared it with the small group of family we are social distancing with. It was a huge hit! I can't eat onion, but I can eat garlic, so I substituted the garlic for the onion. I always cook from my garden in the summer, so I used fresh tomatoes prepared as though they were going to be home canned. I used two quarts. The three hours cooking time was perfect, because it broke down the tomatoes completely, and made a wonderful sauce. I season with 'Spike' instead of salt and pepper; just a family favorite. (we use the original, no affiliation, we just like the stuff) My complaint with other béchamels is that I do not like the nutmeg, but wow, the cinnamon was excellent! I agree with the poster that said to toss a couple of tablespoons of bechamel sauce on the noodles, that is a nice touch, and I have done that before from reading another recipe. In the end, though, your recipe is so much more clear, and simple. I will be passing this one on to my kids.

spiro

Friday 10th of July 2020

nice job..only thing was the cheese is not kasseri its kefalotiri or kefalograviera . Kasseri very good to snack on . I also like to add some nutmeg in the bechamel

Margie

Saturday 16th of May 2020

Can you make this ahead of time and bake later. Wasn’t sure how becemel sauce would be?

Mercenia

Tuesday 15th of September 2020

@Margie, we make 228 pans of Pastitsio for our Greek food festival every year. When our pastitsio is assembled, including the béchamel, we wrap the pans in plastic wrap then foil and put them in our freezer. When our festival begins we unthaw and bake them off. Everything, including the béchamel, holds up very well. It one of our best sellers.

Kelly

Sunday 24th of May 2020

The sauce definitely but I don't think the béchamel would hold.

Reese

Tuesday 28th of April 2020

Wondering why you make this with ground beef? I was taught growing up that ground lamb is more traditional.

Kelly

Tuesday 28th of April 2020

That's how I was taught by my Greek friend who gave me the recipe, a lot of recipes call for ground beef.

John Deming

Tuesday 14th of April 2020

My wife is greek and her mom uses this basic recipe (all greeks have their own slight variations). This is one of the few recipes that actually use Misko #2. Most use penne pasta which is just not greek :D

Kelly

Wednesday 15th of April 2020

It's the only noodles I use and very easy for me to find. It's a great homemade recipe.

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