Alas, we only have a nice camera every once in a blue moon so this dish is undocumented photographically. We substituted mushrooms and cabbage for lamb in our version of the Greek baked pasta dish known as pastítsio. It was one of our better meals and while we ate it, Jamie said, “I want everyone we love to eat this dish.” In an effort to oblige, I am documenting the recipe, which was adapted from a version we found in World Food: Greece, by Susanna Tee.
Our philosophy on food is that all leftovers should be rolled into the next meal (when practical, which is almost always). This philosophy makes it hard to share recipes because the recipes often span many days. However, our other philosophy is that you can substitute anything for anything else.
The smothered cabbage (sans risotto) was one leftover I recommend making the night before, as were the mushrooms: maitake, shitake, lion’s mane, chanterelle, and king trumpet, cooked individually in good olive oil/butter/beer per Alice Water’s mushroom instructions in The Art of Simple Food. That was what we had in the house, all of which needed to be used immediately for fear of committing the cardinal sin, wasting food. Whatever mushrooms you have in your house will be exactly right for this recipe.
Baked Pasta with Spicy Sauce (aka Pastítsio in the Greek)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- 2 garlic gloves, crushed and chopped
- 1 can tomatoes (we canned ours in the summer, hence above photo)
- 4 tbsp fresh parsley or another green, chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh greek oregano or other herb, chopped
- 1 tsp grated cinnamon (or powder)
- 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp muddled clove (or powder)
- cayenne or other chili pepper (we used Tierra’s Espelette powder)
- salt and pepper
- 8 oz. hollow macaroni or other short pasta
Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onion and garlic and let them get soft (about 5 minutes). Add the herbs and the kale, and cook them until they are wilted, another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring the heat up until it’s bubbling, lower the heat again and let cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. While it’s cooking, boil salted water and cook the pasta as per the instructions on the package (until tender). Drain well and set aside.
Instead of meat
Meanwhile, assemble the thing you’ll use for a base—we used the smothered cabbage for the first layer and then the mushrooms, but we were very tempted to use spaghetti squash and caramelized onions instead. To make the smothered cabbage just follow this recipe. I can’t describe it any better. It does take 1.5 hours simmering on the stovetop, so I recommend doing it the night before, as I said above. To make the mushrooms put about 1 tbsp of olive oil and/or butter in a pan on medium-low heat, add some crushed garlic and a thinly sliced onion and once it’s soft, your chopped mushrooms. When the mushrooms are hot and wilted themselves you can pour in some beer or wine to deglaze the pan. Cook until the are delicious. Salt to taste.
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 1/4 greek yogurt (or any kind)
- 2 oz. (or a hunk) of feta
Beat these all together, season with salt and pepper.
Now, assemble the pastítsio. In a large ovenproof dish add the base layer of smothered cabbage and mushrooms, or your leftover substitute. Next add the pasta layer, followed by the tomato sauce. Pour the cheese/egg sauce over the top, grate some parmesan onto it and put the entire thing into a preheated 375 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, until golden brown. Serve hot or warm, cut into portions.