Calliope's Real Greek Food

cooking & stories in my Brooklyn kitchen

Theia Vaggela’s pastitsio

{Baked pasta with ground beef & béchamel}

My great aunt Vaggela would always prepare this amazingly delicious dish to please the children at family gatherings. The taste of this comfort food makes me go back in time.

It takes some time to prepare, no doubt, but the result is happy, satisfied faces around the table. This recipe dates back to my family’s earliest cookbooks.

Tip: make the meat filling the day before and store it in the fridge, it will save you half the preparation time

Preparation Method

1.     Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the ground beef and cook over medium-high heat until pink color disappears, about 5 minutes

2.     Add onions and garlic and cook until they are translucent, about 5 minutes

3.     Add wine and bay leaf & wait for the spirit to disappear (you need to move to the next step, with not so many liquids in the sauce, just meat mainly)

4.     Add the tomato sauce, salt, and pepper and allow sauce to simmer over low heat for 10 - 15 minutes.  

5.     Cook pasta according to package directions and drain well

6.     Melt 1/2 cup of butter in pasta pot and return cooked pasta to the pot. Stir in 1 cup of grated cheese and toss lightly, being careful not to break the pasta

7.     Brush the bottom and sides of the lasagna pan with olive oil. Layer the bottom with half the pasta and press down so that they are somewhat flat

8.     Add the meat filling in an even layer to the pasta. Top with remaining pasta and flatten top layer

9.     Pre-heat the oven to 350F while you prepare the béchamel sauce.


Preparation Method for the béchamel Sauce

1.     Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Using a whisk, add flour to melted butter whisking continuously to make a smooth paste or roux. Let the flour/butter mixture to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown

2.     Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens but does not boil

3.     Add a pinch of salt. It takes a while for the sauce to thicken, be patient (Béchamel is thicker than gravy but not quite as thick as pudding. It should be somewhere in between)

4.      Pour the béchamel over the pasta making sure to pour sauce down in to the corners as well. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

5.     Bake at 350 for approximately 50 minutes or until the top is nice and golden. Let it sit for 30 minutes before serving


-       1/4 cup olive oil

-       1 pound ground beef

-       1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

-       1 clove of garlic, minced

-       1 cup dry white wine

-       1-2 bay leaves

-       1 can tomato puree or diced canned tomatoes

-       1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

-       salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

-       1 pkg. penne pasta

-       1/2 cup butter (or less)


Ingredients for the béchamel sauce

-       1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)

-       1 cup all purpose flour

-       4 cups milk, warmed

-       salt & white pepper

-       nutmeg (optional)


Preparation Time: 40 minutes

Cooking Time: 50 minutes

Serves: 6 – 8