Pastitsio is Greece’s answer to lasagna – a baked pasta dish topped with rich bechamel and traditionally made with spiced ground lamb or sometimes beef. My mother had this in her casserole repertoire, but I had not had it in a very long time as I no longer eat meat. I decided it was time to change that, and set about whipping up a vegetarian version with lentils in place of ground meat. The result is a warm and hearty casserole, a complete protein-filled meal perfect for these dark winter evenings. Serve it up with a little salad and some crusty bread and you are good to go. Portion up and freeze the leftovers for meals throughout the week, or make the entire dish ahead of time, wrap in the fridge and reheat the next day.
There are a few steps to this recipe, but I promise it is simple, and you can even make the lentil filling ahead of time if you want. It’s worth it !
For the lentil filling:
- 1 1/2 cups dry green lentils
- 3 cups vegetarian “beef” broth or vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- pinch of cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 796ml can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
- 1 156ml can tomato paste
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
For the bechamel:
- 1/4 + 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp ground cayenne
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 cup grated parmesan
And last but not least:
- 500 grams dry tubular pasta (rotini or ziti for example)
- salted water for boiling
Start by cooking your lentils. Add the dry lentils to the 3 cups of broth/stock and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed and lentils are tender, but still retaining some bite (as they will continue to cook in the sauce). Drain any remaining liquid and set aside.
Using a large saute pan, add onions and garlic to oil, and cook over medium heat until the onions are starting to become translucent. Add wine and spices to pan, then tomatoes, tomato paste and the lentils. Reduce heat to low-medium and allow the mixture to simmer until liquids have reduced. Stir the cornstarch into the soy sauce to combine and add to the lentil mixture. Continue to cook until slightly thickened, just a few minutes more. Adjust salt to taste (amount will depend on type of broth you use). Remove from heat and allow to cool while making the bechamel.
Place a larger saucepan over medium heat. Add butter to pan and allow to fully melt and start to bubble. Whisk in flour and keep over heat for about a minute. Add milk and continue to whisk until mixture is thickened and bubbling. Reduce heat. Add seasonings. Use a fork to whisk the two egg yolks in a separate bowl. Add about a tablespoonful of the bechamel sauce to the egg yolks, whisking with the fork throughout. Add egg yolk mixture to the pot of sauce, whisking continuously until incorporated. Stir in Parmesan. Remove from heat.
Add dry pasta to salted boiling water and cook until al dente, taking care not to overboil the pasta, as it will continue to bake in the casserole and absorb some of the liquids. Drain water from pasta, return to pot and stir in about a half cup of the bechamel.
You’re now ready to assemble the dish. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a large 9×13 lasagna pan. Layer half the pasta along the bottom of the pan, in single layer (I placed the pasta end to end). Spread lentil mixture evenly over top of pasta. Layer remaining pasta over top in a single layer. Spread bechamel over top of all.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until top of bechamel is browned and bubbling. (Note that you may want to lay the lasagna pan on a larger baking sheet to catch any overflow, depending on the size of your dish.)
Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting and serving.