Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! Pastitsio edition

More progress on the renovation this week! Namely two days of concrete pouring. They did the footers yesterday, then came back today to set the forms and pour walls. You guys, it is SO muddy here. I can't even. 

Here's our only way in and out of the house, a ramp to the front door we are affectionately calling "The Gangplank". Part of this project is a new front porch/entryway, and you have to dig below the frostline, which in these parts is at least 4' down, hence the huge pit for a modest concrete stoop.

It will take about 10 days for the cement to dry, so nothing new will happen for more than a week. I let the kids gently scratch their initials into the porch wall (it will get covered up when they do the flatwork in a couple weeks. I'm learning all kinds of new terminology here, see?)

But believe it or not, we actually had Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! on Tuesday night this week. Tuesday is (so far) the only day of the week with no after school obligations for any of us, so as long as I plan things far enough ahead of time, we should be back to TNFC on the proper day of the week for a little while until the kitchen gets dismantled. Then we'll be getting really creative...

I decided we would make Pastitsio this week. I hadn't even heard of this dish until last weekend. We spent the holiday weekend in Indianapolis celebrating the 80th birthday of a spry friend of Stuart's family (they were in South Africa together for some of his growing up years). One evening between festivities we found ourselves at a Greek restaurant, where Daniel ordered Pastitsio, described on the menu as "Greek lasagna." He declared it delicious, so I decided we should all try it at TNFC this week.

I'm not sure how I'd never heard of pastitsio, by the way. It seems to be a popular Greek dish, but it was new to me. When I started hunting for recipes online, I wasn't sure what to think. They all call for SO MUCH MEAT (lamb, mostly, and I have trouble eating lamb because baby sheep are cute. There. I just admitted that.) and a mixture of spices I would never think to add to a pasta dish, like cinnamon. In fact, I have a vague memory of my mom once trying out a pasta recipe that called for cinnamon and she didn't like it at all. It must have been pastitsio?

So I debated...try this recipe with the cinnamon? Leave it out? Make something else altogether? Let my mother's prejudice against cinnamon in pasta dishes influence my choice for Tuesday Night Fun Cooking!? (She doesn't like Cincinnati style chili either, and I love it if it's done right.) In the end I decided to go for it and make pastitsio more or less the way the recipe said, cinnamon and all. If we don't like it, we don't have to make it again.

I know you all are mainly here for the pictures of my kids cooking, so let's get to it!

Anya consults the recipe.
Anya measures the cinnamon.
Daniel dumps meat into the pan. He can't stand touching raw meat, but he loves squishing it out of the package. My apologies to any vegetarians or vegans reading this. 
Anya chops the meat with a handy tool.
Daniel cuts up some fresh mint.
Fancy pants pasta from Italy (via the Willy Street Coop)
Daniel makes the b├ęchamel sauce.
Crumbling goat cheese. 
Possibly my least appetizing plated food photo EVER. Really, this picture looks like I dumped it straight off a school lunch tray. But seriously, it tasted pretty good.
Pastitsio, recipe from the Food52 website with a few adaptations (noted in bold).

Serves 8
For the pasta and meat
  • 1pound dried penne or ziti pasta
  • tablespoon butter
  • 2pounds ground lamb (Lamb is too cute to eat, so we used beef and pork)
  • 2medium onions, diced
  • 1/2cup red wine
  • 1 6ounces can tomato paste (We used 16oz diced tomatoes)
  • teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (optional) (Left this out, used paprika instead)
  • teaspoon dried mint (optional) (used fresh from the garden)
  • 2cups water (reduced to 1/2 cup since we had diced tomatoes)
  • 6ounces crumbled feta
For the cheese sauce
  • tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • cups milk
  • 1/8teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4cup grated parmesan cheese
  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and reserve. Stir in the butter to prevent sticking.
  2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the lamb until no longer pink, breaking it into pieces, about 8 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a colander and shake well to drain the fat. Return the lamb to the pan, add the wine and cook over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the tomato paste, cinnamon, oregano, (sumac and mint if using) and 2 cups of water. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
  4. For the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until incorporated, about 30 seconds. In a slow steady stream, whisk in the milk until there are no lumps. Cook, whisking often, until the mixture is thick and bubbly and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 - 7 minutes. Stir in the cayenne and the Parmesan.
  5. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Add the pasta to the lamb mixture and stir to combine. Toss in the feta and combine. Spoon the mixture into a greased 9 x13 inch baking dish. Spread the cheese sauce over the pasta mixture, smoothing the top with a spoon. Bake until browned in spots, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven then allow to cool for about 15 minutes before serving.


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