Sometimes, tackling another culture's cuisine can be daunting, especially a culture's iconic and most recognizable dishes.
Among "foodie" and foodblogging circles, we talk of "authenticity" sometimes, but personally, I haven't come across a definition that works for me for all dishes, all cuisines, all of the time. Which is why I've stopped most hand-wringing, hair-pulling, and teeth-gnashing around the whole concept of authenticity.
For me, the whole notion of "authenticity" is a little like what that judge said in a famous censorship case about obscenity: I figure we'll know if and when a dish is authentic or not when I see it. And smell it, and think about it, and finally, when we taste it. Interestingly enough, it is often easier to tell when a dish is not authentic than when it is authentic, but judging ultimately requires a knowledge or experience of both.
In this the case of pastitsio, one of Greece's most recognizable dishes, I admire and can only hope to emulate a perfectly constructed pastitsio, in the manner of the Sam at Greek Gourmand, but sometimes, because we are constrained by imperfect conditions, I am also quite thankful that Peter has called for "pragmatic" pastitsio for this edition of Tony Tahhan's A Taste of the Mediterranean event.
I do not claim my pastitsio to be über-authentic, but I wouldn't go so far to disclaim that my version is wholly inauthentic. I can testify that I did have that perfectly constructed pastitsio in mind when I made this and I tried to stay true to the spirit of the Greek pastitsio.
I didn't have a specific desire to make my pastitsio vegetarian, but that is what I ended up doing, because I had no ground beef (only ground pork in the fridge) but had a pound and a half of ordinary button mushrooms in the fridge.
Ordinarily I would use fancier mushrooms than the regular old button, but being pragmatic, there is no good reason not to use these mushrooms for a mushroom ragu pastitsio.
When I titled the dish such, I suppose some might say I am offending the two gods at the same time, that of "ragu" and of "pastitsio." Oh well. My standard answer is I do not take these terms in disrespect and mean no disrespect.
To begin my mushroom ragu, I put my mirepoix (celery, onions and carrots) in the food processor and minced them up. I sautéed these in a pan while I minced up a pound and a half of mushrooms in the same food processor.
After the mirepoix has gotten some caramelization going, I added garlic. After garlic is fragrant, the mushroom mince went in and I let the whole thing caramelize even more.
I suppose, as with most ragus, the more patient you are, the better the ragu is going to be. I added about 2 cups of tomato sauce that I had simmering on the stove and let the ragu mixture simmer some more.
For the "Greek" spicing, I added a fourth of a teaspoon of cinnamon, the same amount of smoked hot paprika, and a couple of allspice berries. I also added a teaspoon of oregano and the same amount of thyme, along with a couple of bay leaves and let them all simmer for about half an hour more.
I made a simple béchamel sauce by making a roux (cooking equal amounts of butter and flour), whisking in milk until it thickened. I finished it off with just nutmeg.
When I couldn't wait for the ragu anymore, I turned off the heat and started with the assembly.
We don't have a deep enough dish for lasagna so I settled for this square 8" x 8" baking pan. I didn't want to make too big of a batch, because I wasn't sure how this vegetarian pastitsio is going to go over with carnivorous members of my family.
I also didn't have bucatini or a thicker pasta but we did have some oven-ready cannelloni in the pantry. I figure I'll try my mushroom ragu pastitsio using these fat cannelloni. I just hoped that the pasta would hold up well.
So that's a layer of cannelloni, then mushroom ragu, followed by the béchamel. I topped the whole thing off with grated pecorino cheese.
Into the oven (350F) and about 40 minutes later, it was done. I decided to broil it to get a nice bubbly top.
I left mine a second too long under the broiler because I was all agog. (Post about my agog state soon!)
This Mushroom Ragu Pastitsio was a very filling, very comforting dish. The mushroom ragu was very umami, very full, very bold-flavoured, balanced by the rich creaminess of the simple béchamel sauce. The nutmeg in the béchamel played well with the cinnamon and allspice in the ragu, giving this pasta dish that signature Greek twist.
My pastitsio looks a little squished and squat, because I was limited by my very shallow baking pan. I could only have one layer each of pasta, ragu, and bechamel. Next time, when I get a proper baking pan, perhaps, I'll also have a tall and hefty pastitsio.
eatingclub vancouver Greek
Simple Greek Meal
Greek Meatball Soup (Giouvarlakia)
Greek Shrimp with Feta
Greek Ribs with Tzatziki
Mushroom Ragu Pastitsio
Spanakorizo (Greek Spinach Rice)
Zucchini Ribbons Salad with Anchovy Dressing
Souvlaki (Pork and Chicken)
Tomato Bread Salad, Greek-style
Grilled Fish Fillet on Oregano
Pastéli (Greek Sesame Snaps)
Mushroom Ragu Pastitsio
Serves 6 to 8
Makes 1 8" x 8" pan
1 box canneloni, 200g (other pasta can be substituted)
3 stalks celery
2 medium carrots
4 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1.5 lbs button mushrooms
3 cups tomato sauce (reserve 1 cup for pastitsio assembly)
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp smoked hot paprika
2 whole allspice berries
salt and pepper
SIMPLE BECHAMEL SAUCE
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
4 cups milk
1 tsp ground nutmeg
To make Mushroom Ragu:
1. Mince mirepox ingredients (celery, onions, carrots) in a food processor.
2. Take out celery, onion, carrots from the food processor. Put in mushrooms and process.
3. Add oil to skillet, and when hot, saute the mirepoix until lightly caramelized.
4. Add garlic. After 30 seconds or when fragrant, add mushroom mince.
5. Add 2 cups of the tomato sauce.
6. Add the herbs.
7. Let the mixture simmer until it cooks down to a thick sauce, about 30-45 minutes.
To make Béchamel:
8. Melt butter in saucepan.
9. Whisk in the flour until just lightly golden.
10. Slowly add the milk, whisking as you go, to prevent lumps from forming.
11. Season with salt and pepper. Add nutmeg.
To assemble Pastitsio:
12. Ladle about a cup of tomato sauce at the bottom of the pan or until bottom is covered.
13. Arrange pasta in a neat layer.
14. Layer on the mushroom ragu.
15. Layer on the bechamel sauce.
16. Top with cheese.
17. Bake in the oven at 350 for approximately 35 to 40 minutes.
18. Broil until top is golden brown, about 2 minutes.
Greek Gourmand: Pastitsio Perfection
Wandering Chopsticks: Pastitsio
Kalofagas: Pastitsio, Deconstructed