Pastitsio is a dish I eat every year when I go to Paphos in Cyprus, it is essentially a Greek lasagne and it. is. delicious. Pastitsio has 3 layers, pasta, meat and a white sauce. Greek Pastitsio is made with beef, whereas in Cyprus they usually make Pastitsio with pork instead.
The meat in Pastitsio is cooked with oregano and cinnamon so it has this delicious, fragrant and earthy taste and the pasta used in pastitsio is similar to macaroni, medium cut and made with 100% durum wheat. The cheese in pastitsio is traditionally a Cypriot cheese called anari, but this is quite difficult to get hold of so instead you can use a mixture of halloumi and hard goat cheese. Some recipes will tell you to use parmesan, and you can, but this will be veering away from a traditional pastitsio recipe because the cheese in Cyprus is more commonly sheep or goat cheese.
The white sauce uses the same basics as a bechamel but with some egg and a bit of cheese in it to help the pastitsio set. That was the tricky part to getting this recipe for pastitsio right, I needed it to set into layers but not become stiff and rigid!
Like with any much-loved dish from a particular country, there is pressure to get it right especially a country I love as much as Cyprus. Thankfully, having eaten so much home-cooked pastitsio in the 23 years I have been going there, I have a good knowledge base!
Pastitsio can be eaten at any time of year, it's great comfort food for winter but I generally visit Cyprus in the summer months and eat pastitsio even in baking hot temperatures, so just make it whenever suits you!
I'd serve it with a nice crisp salad with some black olives, those flavours will
There are quite a few ingredients for this dish, but you can make a nice big batch and freeze leftovers to save you time in future.
- Pork mince with at least 10% fat
- Halloumi cheese
- Hard goat cheese
- Full fat milk
- Tomato puree
- Red wine
- Meat stock/broth
- Cinnamon powder
- Cinnamon stick
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
See the recipe card for quantities.
First, make the meat filling.
Soften the onion and garlic in oil in a casserole dish, before adding the pork mince.
Once it is browned, stir through the cinnamon powder and the wine and allow that to cook down for 5-10 minutes.
Then add the tomatoes and the tomato puree, stock, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, parsley and oregano. Bring to a simmer and leave for 45 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta al dente by taking one minute off the cooking time listed on the packet. Drain and allow to cool before stirring through half a beaten egg and a handful of the grated cheeses.
And finally, make the White sauce.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and then stir in the flour bit by bit, to make a thick paste.
Now whisk in your milk to avoid any lumps.
Grate over the nutmeg, stir it through and turn up the heat, stirring continuously.
The sauce will suddenly start to thicken, and once it feel heavier to stir, turn off the heat.
Add the remaining egg but use a whisk to stir them in quickly so that they don't scramble.
Add the remaining cheese, and season with salt and pepper.
Now assemble your pastitsio!
In the bottom of a lasagne dish, add a layer of the pasta, then meat, then white sauce and repeat, making sure you have enough white sauce to cover the top entirely.
Bake in the oven for one hour, and then leave to rest for 15 minutes before serving.
Hint: Don't overcook the pasta, as it will absorb more of the moisture when the dish is in the oven so make sure you keep it al dente.
Here are a few substations or variations you can try to make this pastitsio recipe work for you.
- Cheese - Finding anari can be tough, so halloumi and hard goat cheese is fine to use
- Gluten free - use gluten free pasta to make this gluten free
- Vegetarian - Try this with quorn or sunflower mince!
You'll need a few pots and pans for this recipe, but most important is the oven dish. Use a deep lasagne dish, I always cook in cast iron.
Store any leftovers in the fridge. Good for 2-3 days.
You can also freeze this pastitsio in portions ready to eat at a later date.
Leave the pastitsio to rest for 15 minutes before serving so it can set into its layers. It will also be hotter than the sun so this gives it a chance to cool down a bit before eating.
Authentic Cypriot Pastitsio
- casserole pot
- Large lasagne dish
- 700 grams pork mince (with minimum 10% fat)
- 1 white onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1 tablespoon parsley
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 large tomatoes
- 3 tablespoon tomato puree
- 100 ml red wine
- 150 ml chicken stock
- 1 litre whole milk
- 100 grams butter
- 100 grams plain flour
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1½ large eggs
- 75 grams halloumi
- 50 grams hard goat cheese
- 350 grams macaroni
- ½ large egg
- 25 grams halloumi
- 25 grams hard goat cheese
- Dice the onion and garlic.
- Grate the cheeses or cut them into small cubes.
- Beat the eggs.
Pork mince layer
- Soften the onion and garlic in oil in a casserole dish, before adding the pork mince.
- Once it is browned, stir through the cinnamon powder and the wine and allow that to cook down for 5-10 minutes.
- Then add the tomatoes and the tomato puree, stock, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, parsley and oregano. Bring to a simmer and leave for 45 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta al dente by taking one minute off the cooking time listed on the packet.
- Drain and rinse with cold water to cool before stirring through half a beaten egg and a handful of the grated cheeses.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan and then stir in the flour bit by bit, to make a thick paste or roux.
- Now, briskly stir in your milk to avoid any lumps.
- Grate over the nutmeg and turn up the heat, stirring continuously as the sauce thickens. It will take time, but keep stirring.
- The sauce will suddenly start to thicken, and once it feels heavier to stir and plateaus, turn off the heat.
- Add the remaining egg but stir them in very quickly so that they don't scramble.
- Stir through the remaining grated cheese, and season with salt and pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 160C / 320F
- In your lasagne dish, spread a layer of the pork mince along the bottom.
- Add a layer of pasta over the top, then a layer of white sauce.
- Repeat another layer, making sure the top is completely covered in the white sauce.
- Bake in the oven for one hour until the top is golden and bubbling
- Leave to rest for 15 minutes before serving.