Cinnamon Scented Pastitsio with Rich Bechemel

For the meat sauce:

  • 1 lb ground beef or lamb (or a combination of the two)
  • 1/2 large eggplant or 1 small, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 large can of diced or crushed tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

For the béchamel:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 quart milk
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

To assemble the dish:

  • 1 lb pasta, cooked and drained
  • Breadcrumbs

In a large shallow pan over high heat, brown the meat in olive oil.  When the meat is browned, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.  In the same pan, add a bit more olive oil.  Brown the eggplant lightly and add the onions.  Cook until the onions are very soft, about 7-10 minutes.  Add the garlic and spices and cook one minute more.  Add the meat back in and add the wine.  Reduce until the wine is almost gone from the pan.  Add the tomatoes.  Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until the sauce is thick and fragrant.  Do not boil the sauce or the meat will be tough.  While your sauce is simmering, prepare your béchamel sauce (below).

In a small sauce pot bring milk to a simmer.  Meanwhile, melt the butter in another larger sauce pan over medium heat.  When the butter bubbles, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to form a roux.  The mixture should be the consistency of wet sand.  If it is too loose add more flour, if it is too thick, add more butter.  Cook for 1-2 minutes to remove the raw flour taste.  Using a wire whisk, whisk the simmering milk into the roux, making sure to smooth out all the flour lumps.  Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking frequently and making sure to scrape the corners and bottom of the pan to prevent scorching.  Reduce to a simmer and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens to nappé.  Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. When the béchamel is cool, mix in the egg yolks, this will help the sauce set up while baking.

Preheat your oven to 375°F.  Combine the pasta and meat sauce and mix until well combined.  Pour the pasta into a 9×13 inch baking pan.  Cover with the béchamel and sprinkle the top evenly with breadcrumbs.  Place in the oven until the edges bubble and the top is golden brown, about 45 minutes.  Cool slightly and serve.