In less than two weeks Tony and I will be on a plane headed for Greece. Less than two weeks! And for both of us, way more than two weeks of work to get through before we leave. I don't know where the time goes and I don't know where we'll find the time to finish everything we need to. No time to cook, no time to think and no time to blog. When I left my full-time job last year I thought I'd have all the time in the world to do these things. Little did I know freelancing would render me useless in the free-time department. Don't get me wrong – it's great to be getting all this work, but I really need to find a way to better organise my time.
I did find some time last Friday afternoon to make a batch of Vegetarian Pastitsio which is a dish I've been wanting to make ever since I started reminiscing about the rare but well-remembered Greek meals of my childhood.
The meat version of this favourite Greek family dish was a staple in our house when I was growing up. A cheesy, tomatoey pasta bake topped with a thick layer of béchamel sauce to fill our tummies during the cold winter months.
A vegetarian version of this dish is easily created by replacing the meat with mushrooms, lentils, chickpeas, tempeh, a mix of vegetables or just one of your favourite vegetables like I've done here with broccoli. I fried it up with the onions to intensify the flavour (love a good browning on my broccoli) and the rest of the recipe is pretty much faithful to regular pastitsio, loaded with the gorgeous aromatic spices of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Less than two weeks, hey? I haven't even had time to get excited about going to Greece! Is that a bit mental of me? The excitement phase should have started 6 months ago! Less than two weeks and I haven't even started packing (yes that's right, the mental woman usually has her bags packed a good month before going on an overseas trip.)
I really need to get my act together, and I need to set more time aside for blogging. I fully intend on posting while we're staying at the family house in Limnos but if I lose my blogging mojo before we leave, it will be hard to get motivated again once I'm in Limnian heaven surrounded by the Aegean Sea and beautiful warm weather – it is so positively intoxicating.
OK. How about I make a commitment right here and right now? I promise to write at least three more posts on the blog before we leave for Greece. A soup, a side and a dessert. There. A good, structured commitment that I have to stick to now that it's in writing and out there on the internet. Done.
Enjoy a good chunky piece of this Vegetarian Pastitsio and I'll see you in a few days with a recipe for a mystery Greek soup!
In the meantime, you might want to hop over to Veggie Mama's blog to see what everyone else is cooking up on Meatless Monday!
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large onions, finely chopped
- 3 cups of finely chopped broccoli (or any other vegetable/s)*
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 2 cans peeled, chopped tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 packet (500g) Misko pastitsio pasta or bucatini pasta (thick spaghetti-like tube pasta)**
- 60g butter
- 60g plain flour
- 1 litre of milk
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup grated tasty cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup sharp cheese to cover béchamel
* You could also use 2 cups of cooked lentils, cooked chickpeas or tempeh, instead of vegetables.
** If you can't find pastitsio or bucatini pasta, macaroni, penne or spiral pasta will work just as well.
- Heat oil and fry onions in a large pot over low heat for 15 minutes. Add broccoli and continue to fry for another 15 minutes, until the vegetables are softened and lightly browned.
- Add wine and turn heat up to medium. Cook, stirring for around a minute, until most of the wine has evaporated.
- Add bay leaves, cinnamon, oregano, sugar, tomatoes, tomato paste and salt and pepper to taste and stir. Bring to the boil then turn heat down to low and allow to simmer, uncovered, for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, prepare the béchamel. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and mix well, stirring quickly.
- Cook while stirring for around 1 minute until the mixture is beginning to froth a little, then remove from heat.
- Add around a quarter of a cup of milk, stirring quickly to incorporate. The mixture will thicken and lumpify a little but trust me, it will smooth out. Immediately add a little more milk, stirring quickly and constantly, ensuring the mixture is combined properly before adding more milk. Keep adding milk and stirring until all the milk is incorporated.
- Put the saucepan back on medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens. Takes around 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Using a whisk, quickly stir in the cheese, beaten egg, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cover until ready to use.
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add pasta. Cook for 10 minutes only – it should only be partially cooked. Drain and rinse under cold water so that the pasta is cool enough to handle.
- Lay half the cooked pasta in the bottom of a deep baking dish (around 35cm x 25cm and 6–7cm deep). If using pastitsio pasta, it is traditional to lay the noodles side by side so they are parallel to one another. This way when the pastitsio is cut, the pasta "holes" are all facing the same way. It's purely for visual purposes but can also be quite therapeutic laying out the pasta this way!
- Spread a few tablespoons of béchamel sauce over the pasta then pour the tomato sauce evenly over the pasta.
- Lay the rest of the pasta over the tomato sauce, then the rest of the béchamel, and top with grated sharp cheese.
- Bake in a preheated oven set to 180 degrees celsius for around 45 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden.