This dish is a Greek lasagne, with three layers. The bottom layer is traditionally made up of ziti, which is a long, tubular pasta – the shape of penne, the length of spaghetti. It’s fun, but only available from specialist suppliers, so don’t worry. Next, a layer of meat sauce, and then – obviously – a cheesy top. The meat sauce is turned up nine notches with sweet marsala, cinnamon and prunes, and the topping is yolk-enriched pecorino béchamel.
SERVES FIVE TO SIX INGREDIENTS
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped 1 tbsp tomato purée
500g minced beef
400g can of chopped tomatoes 1 tsp dried thyme
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
5 pitted prunes, finely chopped 25g parsley, chopped
450g ziti (or another pasta of your choice, ideally tubular)
4 egg whites
30g parmesan, grated 90g unsalted butter
70g plain flour
80g pecorino, grated
¼ tsp nutmeg, freshly grated 4 egg yolks
Add the olive oil to a large sauté pan and set it over a medium heat. When the oil’s hot, put the chopped onion, carrot and celery in the pan, and stir well. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring until soft. Add the chopped garlic to the pan and keep going for two more minutes.
Add the tomato purée, stir well and cook for a minute, or until the purée shifts to a more ruby red.
Add the minced beef to the pan, breaking it up with your wooden spoon as you stir. Cook it for five minutes, then add the marsala to the pan, and cook until it’s almost all evaporated. Now add the canned tomatoes, dried thyme, and some salt and pepper to the pan. Stir, and then bury the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves.
Turn the heat down to low, put the lid on the pan and leave it to simmer for 20 minutes. Then, take the lid off and let it simmer for five more minutes. Stir through the chopped prunes and 15g of the chopped parsley, put the lid on, and pop the pan to one side.
Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water until just al dente (it’ll cook a bit more in the oven). When it’s done, drain it and add it to the bottom of your oven dish. Leave it there for now until you’re ready for it.
To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat.
When it’s melted, add the flour, and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth and beautifully beige.
Add the milk bit by bit (about 100ml at a time), stirring and switching to a whisk if it gets lumpy.
Once you’ve added all the milk, take the sauce off the heat and stir through the grated pecorino, followed by the nutmeg and some salt and pepper.
Now, reach for your egg yolks. Give them a quick mix with a fork, and then add a scant tablespoon of béchamel to them, mixing continuously so the yolks don’t scramble. Repeat this three more times to carefully warm up the yolks.
Add the yolk mix into the pan of béchamel and stir well. Leave it to one side.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.
To assemble the pastitsio, crumble the feta and sprinkle the remaining chopped parsley into the pasta. Add half of the egg whites and toss really vigorously so all of the pasta has met some egg white.
Stir the rest of the egg whites through the meat sauce, and spoon that on top of the pasta, spreading it out with the back of your spoon to form an even layer.
Top with the béchamel custard and sprinkle the parmesan on top.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 minutes, or until the top is evenly browned.
Leave it to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Recipes from Carbs by Laura Goodman (£15, Quadrille). Buy now for £12.99