I'm still in the midst of cozying into the comfort food time of year. Yep, that period where long remembered family favorites still gratify our souls and warm us from the inside out. Like long lost friends, we're happy they've come to call again.
A craving has been building for a good old fashioned casserole for quite a while now. My first thought was the same macaroni, ground beef, cheese and tomato casserole that my family's been enjoying since my mom made it so many years ago. Everybody has a recipe for that one...I transformed our version over the years to incorporate more veggies (especially fresh spinach) into the mix - fool the kids, you know? You don't have a recipe for that? I'll post it another time.
The family favorite casserole this time is a beloved Patitsio. You've never heard of it? The components of this dish are similar to the macaroni casserole described above...but oh so different. Pasta? Check. Cheese? Check. Beef? Check. Tomatoes, onions? Check and check.
Only this is more like a Greek lasagna with layers of cheese-enveloped pasta, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg-scented ground beef, onion and tomato and topped with a layer of a rich, cheesy cream sauce that browns to perfection. Once cooled, it cuts into beautiful squares lasagna-style. Oh yeah.
Those unexpected warm fall spices add such a subtle flavor that you can't quite put your finger on...yet gives the recipe it's uniqueness...its essential Greek-ness. What it makes me think of is Cincinnati Chili or a great hot dog chili...cinnamon is the secret special ingredient in both of those faves. Those Greeks sure know how to spice their beef dishes!
When we first moved back to Pittsburgh...back in 1986, this became one of our favorites. I don't make it often, all the cheese, eggs, beef, pasta and half & half make it a special occasion dish only. So we had a special occasion. It was Monday. Everyone deserves to make Monday special! You too!
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup flour (or cornstarch to make this gluten free)
- 3 cups half and half
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 3/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 pounds ground chuck
- 8 ounce can tomato paste (little one)
- 2 cups white wine
- 1 pound small penne pasta (gluten-free to make this GF)
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese plus extra for top
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
Cream sauce: In a small saucepan, melt butter then stir in flour (or cornstarch). Cook over medium heat until sandy. Lower heat. Gradually stir in half and half and broth. Cook, stirring constantly until smooth and thickened. Whisk in parmesan, salt and pepper until cheese is thoroughly melted.
Meat: In a skillet, melt butter and olive oil. Saute onion until translucent. Add beef and brown, breaking up into small pieces as it cooks. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper, tomato paste and wine. Cook until slightly thickened.
Pasta: Cook pasta according to directions, undercooking slightly. Drain. Beat eggs, 1/2 cup of parmesan and butter in small bowl. Mix thoroughly with pasta.
Assembly: Pour half of the penne into a deep, buttered 9 x 13 baking dish and press down firmly all over.
Spread 1 cup of the cream sauce evenly over the pasta.
Spoon all the meat on top evenly, spreading to edges.
Add another cup of cream sauce and top with remaining pasta. Press down firmly again evenly over the top. Pour the remaining cream sauce over all and top with the remaining parmesan cheese.
Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 45-60 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Cool 15-20 minutes and cut into squares.
NOTE: Feel free to cut this in half and bake in an 8 X 10 baking dish or something similar. Print this post