Chef Debi: Pastitsio is classic Greek dish that can be gluten-free

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I have been craving Greek dishes – Greek Pastitsio in particular. Years ago, I used to work at an authentic Greek restaurant and I learned to make many of the Greek dishes. Pastitsio was one of my favorites.

This version comes from Simply Gourmet, www.simply-gourmet.com, and I love its versatility to be made gluten-free. Serve with a mixed green salad, and dinner is done. 

Greek Pastitsio

For the meat sauce:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, chopped fine

3 tablespoons tomato paste

6 cloves of garlic, minced

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 pound lean ground beef

1/2 pound ground lamb

1/2 cup red wine

1 15-ounce can of tomato sauce 

1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese 

For the béchamel sauce:

5 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup of flour ( brown rice flour for a gluten-free version)

3 cloves of minced garlic

3 cups 2-percent milk

2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 cups of grated Romano cheese

3 large eggs

1/3 cup of plain Greek yogurt

One box of elbow pasta, cooked according to directions and drained (can substitute gluten-free noodles)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

For the meat sauce: In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil. Add onions and cook until soft. Add tomato paste, garlic, oregano and cinnamon. Cook until mixture starts to darken. Add ground beef and lamb. Cook until meat is no longer pink. Add wine. Let simmer until wine has reduced to about 1 tablespoon. Add tomato sauce and simmer until thick, about 10 minutes. Stir in Parmesan cheese, and add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

For the béchamel sauce: In a separate pan, melt the butter for the béchamel sauce. Add flour and stir to combine. Stir in milk and cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and reduce sauce down to about 4 cups, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat once thickened. Add 1 cup of Romano cheese and stir until smooth.

Using a 9-by-13 baking dish, combine prepared noodles and 2 cups of béchamel sauce. Stir and smooth out in bottom of pan. 

To the remaining 2 cups of béchamel sauce, add the eggs and yogurt. In a small bowl, beat the 3 eggs. Slowly add 1 cup of the béchamel sauce to the eggs, then take the mixture and add it to the last cup of béchamel sauce. Be careful not to scramble the eggs. Stir in yogurt.

Take the above remaining sauce and spread over the top of the meat. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese on top.

Bake 35 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

• Chef Debi Stuckwisch is the owner of Meals Like Mom’s Personal Chef service in McHenry County. She can be reached at 847-778-9351, mealslikemoms@comcast.net or www.mealslikemom.com.

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