The meaning of the word Pastichio, in Italian, is a big mess. Actually the word itself means, a big mess. Never mind that the word, as it relates to food, does not exist in Italy, and was probably misappropriated by the Greeks during some occupation, war or crusade. This casserole, having made an appearance on the menu of every Greek diner nationwide, is a cannibalized version of what I would like to think is the original. As usual, recipes that come before me get tweaked, and this one was no exception.
The dish usually makes its appearance as a beef bolognese imposter on ziti noodles topped by a thick, cloying custard known as bechamel sauce (from the French, of course). As it now stands, and as it stood on countless buffets at family gatherings, it was well, just not good. It needed massive improvement. I was up to the challenge.
First off, lamb instead of ground beef. The “stew” portion of the dish had to include lamb cubes which were stewed for hours in a rich ragu. The stewing process would render the lamb cubes into strands of shredded lusciousness.
The resultant “stew” was infused with the flavors of the shredded lamb and the added mirepoix that dominates so many French preparations. A few more changes…..allspice instead of cinnamon and a splash of balsamic to compliment the red wine and tomato puree. This was no ordinary sauce, and after a degreasing (post chill in the fridge), it was indeed a gorgeous, silken lamb ragout. And when that ragout coated the one pound of penne with along with one cup of Gruyere cheese the results were, well, delicious. On it’s own, I could have devoured the entire pound of pasta.
Deciding to turn the pasta into its intended result, I poured the pasta into a casserole dish and topped it with a thinner layer of bechamel sauce… to which I added one cup of Parmiggiano Reggiano. Oh the smells coming from the oven as it baked! The resulting mess is exactly what I set out to accomplish. A mess it might be but a sublime one at that. The photo and recipe will appear on Sunday because this mess is going to my mom’s for Greek Easter. Christos Anesti!