Pastitsio (Greek Lasagna)

Posted on Apr 28, 2019
30 Comments

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.

Slice of pastitsio on serving plate.

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.

Overhead of ingredients labeled on white board.

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?

What is Kasseri cheese?

Pastitsio noodles and kasseri cheese wedge.

The noodles and cheese.  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).  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.

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.

If you’ve tried this Greek Pastitsio, please rate it below in the comments and let me know how it went ~ I love hearing from you! HUNGRY FOR MORE?  Subscribe to my Newsletter and come hang out with me on PINTEREST, INSTAGRAM and FACEBOOK for all the latest updates.

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.
5 from 5 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? Rate it below and share on Instagram so I can see!Mention @thehungrybluebird or tag #thehungrybluebird !

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

30 thoughts

  1. Avatar

    Take Me To The Greek… and give me a 2nd helping of Pastitsio!

    Reply

  2. Avatar

    I remember this dish, but not kasseri cheese. I recall a cheese called haloumi. anyway, this looks yummy…must try instead of moussaka. Love the béchamel and cinnamon flavor in the meat!

    Reply

    1. Kelly

      Hi Diana. I love moussaka but I’ve never made it, not very comfortable preparing eggplant yet. I really like pastitsio. I have heard of heloumi also, but not for this dish. Kasseri is really yummy, the cheese they use for saganaki. Asiago would be good substitute. What does haloumi taste like?
      ~Kelly

      Reply

      1. Avatar

        hi..Kelly.. Haloumi is not as tasty as saganaki..it has a milder taste(less salt, less fermentation), but it is good. It is like comparing mozzarella to asiago.
        I tried an eggplant dish from NY Times and it really helped me do eggplant..cut it up into bite size pieces, leave skins on, salt it, toss it in oil, bake uncovered in heavy casserole dish at 375..until you get the right consistency and eggplant is soft, skins are not too tough. (maybe 30 minutes, but I just keep checking it. then use it in your recipes. This particular dish was Moroccan with chickpeas, tomatoes, spices. well, I do like your blog. I have started doing the cafe au lait for breakfast..the milk makes it more filling . best to you and Mark!

        Reply

      2. Avatar

        The cheese most commonly used for saganaki is kefalytiri. We get it at a Greek grocery store in the Chicago suburbs. It is so fun to make.

        Reply

        1. Kelly

          Which store? I’m from the near west Chicago suburbs, would love to try this next time I’m home. Thanks for the tip!

          Reply

        2. Kelly

          I’ll look at it at the store where I get Kasseri cheese, they have everything!

          Reply

  3. Avatar

    You can also wrap the eggplant in aluminum foil and to soften, let it set in the oven a little longer when the heat is off.

    Reply

    1. Kelly

      Diana, thanks for all the eggplant advice. I really appreciate it. Will try your tips.

      Reply

  4. Avatar

    Do you live in St. Louis? Where did you find the Pastitsio Pasta Noodles?
    I want to make this recipe but am having trouble finding the noodles, help please.

    Reply

    1. Kelly

      At Global Foods in Kirkwood. They have a small Greek section and you’ll find the noodles there. They also have kasseri cheese, reasonably priced.

      Reply

  5. Avatar

    you’re welcome..just saw your reply. I like sundried tomatoes with eggplant as a side dish..get the best ones at Trader Joe’s.
    I came up with new turkey leftover idea..tortilla wraps, turkey, sundried tomatoes, then add whatever you like in any combination…green onions, pepper jack cheese,
    maybe avocado slices.

    Reply

  6. Avatar

    I have been making pastitsio the way mom showed me and have experimented with a lot of recipes. Yours is the best one I have ever made and I am sticking with it. My family is nuts over it and I have already made it over a dozen times in 3 months. Glad I found you.

    Reply

    1. Kelly

      I am so happy to hear that. I will pass your comment on to Flora, she gave me this wonderful recipe.

      Reply

  7. Avatar

    Gerri Katrichis

    June 20, 2018

    5 stars
    Looking forward to the Spanakopita recipe

    Reply

  8. Avatar

    5 stars
    Do you drain the grease off of the hamburger,and what size pan should I use?thanks

    Reply

    1. Kelly

      I do not drain the fat/juices. You can if you want, if excessively greasy. I use a large 11 by 15 inch lasagna pan. You need a big pan for this to fit!

      Reply

  9. Avatar

    Can you make it the night before??

    Reply

    1. Kelly

      I only make the sauce the night before and then assemble the next day. I’m not sure how the béchamel would hold up in advance.

      Reply

  10. Avatar

    Can I double the batch of béchamel?

    Reply

    1. Kelly

      I’ve never doubled it so I’m not sure. It makes more than enough for this recipe. I would lean towards making it in two batches if you want more.

      Reply

  11. Avatar

    Meathead

    April 30, 2019

    5 stars
    It’s Greek (lasagna) To Me!

    Reply

  12. Avatar

    Looking forward to making this.
    Had already ordered Kefalitiri cheese from Greek supplier in UK so hope that will be ok?
    Can you freeze the leftovers of the finished dish? Only two of us!
    Silly question but whenever you see the cut dish the macaroni tubes are very symmetrical as if it was laid in straight lines but in the recipe it appears to be laid in swirls?!

    Reply

    1. Kelly

      Kelly

      May 19, 2019

      It freezes beautifully, we just had it last night from the freezer and it was delicious. I do not lay the noodles perfectly straight, it just cuts that way. I’m not sure about the cheese substitute, I think that might be good for sprinkling on top but Kasseri, Asiago or an Italian blend would be best.

      Reply

  13. Avatar

    Manushag

    August 10, 2019

    5 stars
    So good! I had to make alterations due to egg and tomato allergies, so you would think that would ruin it, but no! I left out the tomato in the sauce and added some beef broth mixed with a little cornstarch, to make a “gravy”. Left out the eggs too. Added a bit of oregano too, since I love it and it is ‘Greek’. I halved the recipe so it would fit in my crock-pot and cooked it on high for 4 hours. Came out great! I also put a piece of parchment in, as a sling, to make removal and serving easier. Thanks for the recipe!

    Reply

  14. Avatar

    5 stars
    Well, a vegan version of this is bubbling away in the oven as I speak. I’m going to preemptively give it 5/5 stars because the elements of it are DELICIOUS. The vegan version includes (measurements are as the recipe unless otherwise noted):
    Meat sauce: A mixture of Beyond Burger (1.5 lb) and wild mushrooms (about 1/2 lb), onion tomato sauce, cinnamon, garlic, 1 tsp dried oregano, salt, 2 c. broth from soaking the mushrooms. I still simmered it for 3 hours and refrigerated it overnight.
    Bechamel: Miyoko’s vegan cultured butter (1/4 cup), grapeseed oil (1/4 cup), garlic, 1/2 tsp black salt, Violife vegan feta (not much, just a couple of tablespoons), unsweetened soy milk, Just Egg, flour
    Kasseri substitute: Aldi’s vegan mozzarella (2 cups) and Violife vegan feta (1/4 cup)
    Pasta: I used unlined Ziti and mixed it with Just Egg
    Butter on top: Miyoko’s vegan cultured butter 1/4 cup

    I ended up using a 13 x 9 x 3-inch lasagna pan, and I had about 1.5 cups of the meat sauce and half of the bechamel sauce left over (which is now going to be in a wild mushroom lasagna, after it’s thinned a bit with the leftover mushroom soaking liquid).

    This one is definitely going into our dinner circulation!
    Thank you SO MUCH for posting this recipe. Thank Flora, too 🙂

    Reply

    1. Kelly

      Oh my gosh, I’m impressed. I will pass on to my daughter who eats vegetarian/vegan-ish most of the time. Glad this recipe inspired you!

      Reply

  15. Avatar

    Hi Kelly. Have not made the pastitsio yet, but it looks delicious. I had to comment after reading your story on how you got the recipe. I am an Italian from Long Island and married a greek. Pastitsio is my favorite greek dish. I also happen to know Flora D. and her family. I miss her and the kids (although they are not kids anymore). Her mother happens to be my Nouna (greek godmother) when I was baptized after converting to Greek Orthodox. It is a small world!!! Please tell her I said hi next time you see her.

    Reply

    1. Kelly

      What a small world!! Flora is great, I passed this message along to her. I’m getting ready to make her spanokopita recipe, can’t wait!

      Reply

  16. Avatar

    Hello, this looks great. My Mum recently died and sadly I never got her pastitsio recipe so I’ll definitely be trying this one as it looks very similar.

    You mentioned you might have a spanakopita recipe too??? Any chance you’ll be sharing it with us?? 😉

    Reply

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