Monday, August 5, 2013

Vegetarian Pastitsio (Greek pasta bake)


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!


Vegetarian Pastitsio


Serves 8–10

Ingredients

  • 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)**
For the béchamel sauce
  • 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.

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. Add wine and turn heat up to medium. Cook, stirring for around a minute, until most of the wine has evaporated.
  3. 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.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the béchamel. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and mix well, stirring quickly.
  5. Cook while stirring for around 1 minute until the mixture is beginning to froth a little, then remove from heat.
  6. 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.
  7. Put the saucepan back on medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens. Takes around 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
  8. Using a whisk, quickly stir in the cheese, beaten egg, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cover until ready to use.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!
  11. Spread a few tablespoons of béchamel sauce over the pasta then pour the tomato sauce evenly over the pasta.
  12. Lay the rest of the pasta over the tomato sauce, then the rest of the béchamel, and top with grated sharp cheese.
  13. Bake in a preheated oven set to 180 degrees celsius for around 45 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden.



26 comments:

  1. Mouthwatering! This vegetarian pastitsio looks really good.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Thanks Rosa :) The bechamel sauce really makes it. I think I'll double the quantity next time!

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  2. This looks fabulous! I must try it. Thanks!

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    1. I hope you do Mary! It's delicious :)

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  3. This looks amazing!!! And so pretty when all the pasta is lined up - how did you cut such a neat slice?!

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    1. Thanks Becca! I have this fabulous plastic serrated knife that I used to cut these things. It's such a nifty thing, and doesn't scratch my metal baking dishes :)

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  4. Delicious! So jealous you're off to sunshine and holidays in 2 weeks - maybe there's room in that suitcase of yours to take me with you?

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    1. Oh I'm hoping to take an almost empty suitcase with me actually - I need space for all the Greek cookware I plan to bring back with me!!

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  5. Amazing. Love the look of the rows of past and can't wait to try it. Cinnamon? I find that very interesting. Pinning for now.. will try it later..

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    1. Cinnamon is used a lot in both sweet and savoury Greek cooking. I love the exotic flavour it adds to tomato-based sauces.

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  6. Oh my goodness that looks good! I should commit to making it before you leave :) Hey, even if you don't blog when you're in Greece, at least put up some photos for those of us in houses with no central heating reading your blog in dressing gowns, beanies and ear muffs (yeah, guess what I'm wearing now?)

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    1. Oh there'll be photos alright. And I hear you about the dressing gowns, beanies and ear muffs!! I wear my big headphones while at the computer just to keep my ears warm... and I'm not even listening to music!!!

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  7. could this look anymore perfect?! seriously, you have such an amazing talent. i want a big rectangle cut out for me, i'd devour it in a second.

    greece in two weeks!!! i'm so jealous!!!

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    1. I'm laughing because being a perfectionist, I'm actually a bit disappointed with the collapse of some of the pasta! If you look closely in the middle of the slice, some of the noodles have moved into the tomato layer!! Oh I know no one notices these things :) Thanks Caitlin, I would love to know how you would veganise this dish.

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  8. Looks fab, I've made your roasted cauliflower youvetsi a few times though since you posted it and it is quite addictive so I'll have to stop making that before I can try this, there's only so much pasta I can eat in one week.

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    1. Oh I'm so pleased to hear you've been enjoying the cauliflower youvetsi! But you really need to break that addiction now, go cold turkey for a week or so, then take up the addiction again with this pastitsio :)

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  9. Looks delicious. Will be trying it this week. Just got back from 2 weeks in Greece and LOVED it. Apart from India, second best country for vegetarians which is ironic considering people associate meat with Greeks. I ate far too much!! You'll have a great time.

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    1. Absolutely Kerry, that is the whole philosophy of my blog - that Greek food is so much more vegetarian than people think! Tony and I always eat too much when in Greece but the food is so good, fresh and affordable. And what a variety! Sounds like you had a lovely time over there :) I'm sure we will too. How could we not? It's GREECE!!

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  10. This Vegetarian Pastitsio looks delicious Lisa. Certainly bechamel is the most delicious part, it is never too much.
    Be patient, two weeks will fly away with so many things you have to do.

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    1. Thank you Mina! Oh yes, the bechamel is certainly the most amazing layer of pastitsio - I could have definitely doubled the quantity :) And I know what you mean about two weeks flying away! Only one left now!

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  11. The OCD in me really appreciates how the noodles are all lined up so neatly like that. There is something about baked pasta that's such a comforting thing!

    I can't wait to read about all your adventures in Greece! So I'm glad you'll be blogging there. :)

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    1. And the OCD in me can't help but notice the ones that have sunken in the middle!!!

      I'm really looking forward to blogging over in Greece. It won't be easy though with the sun and fun of a Greek island keeping me away from the computer!

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  12. This looks delicious.. I stumbled upon your blog because I'm headed to Greece in 3 weeks. :-) And I was looking for some vegetarian options.. I LOVE pastitsio, and I don't eat beef so I have a veg recipe in my mind.
    Can't wait to read about your Greek Adventures.. hopefully I can get a few tips with you since you are heading their first.
    Lovely blog!

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    1. Hi Honey! Oh you will find plenty of vegetarian options in Greece :) It's funny, there aren't many vegetarian restaurants in Greece, but on every Greek taverna menu you'll find that most of the entrees or "mezes" are delicious vegetarian treats. I usually order two or three entree plates and that's my meal.

      Have a great trip!!

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  13. These look delicious and perfect! Thanks for sharing it here

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  14. this recipe looks absolutely amazing!! I just made a batch for my family, although I didn§t put in any cheese, so the white sauce was a bit runny, I only put some slices of vegan cheese slices on top. I am going to serve it with some cucumber-dill salad and chickpea-corn patties.
    Thank you so much for a wonderful recipe!

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