September 12, 2010

Arrivederci Lasagna! Open your heart, mind, and mouth to Greek Pastitsio

This is a painting of the village of Vlahokerasia by the artist Peter Contis
who was a friend of my husband's great-grandparents.  
The dots do not appear on the original painting.

My husband's maternal lineage can be traced back to a small village in Greece, Vlahokerasia, on the Greek Peloponnesus between Tripoli and Sparta.  His great-grandfather, Anastassios Demitrios Kolovos was just 16 years old when he immigrated to the U.S. after half of his family perished during a plague of smallpox that struck the village during the olive harvest. Anastassios settled in Pittsburgh, PA where his uncle had already established himself with a succesful restaurant.  

Anastassios went on to be a successful businessman himself and raised a family that included my husband's grandfather, Anastasios Robertos (later changed to Ernest, and known by his friends as "Bob").  Bob, himself, had a fascinating career which included work in the U.S. Military's earliest experiments with LSD in the 1950s.  Bob passed away a few years ago, and I'm honored and happy to have had the opportunity to get to know him.  

By the time I met Bob, he had long since retired from the military, from engineering, from pursuing his numerous PhDs, and from his passion for cooking.  My husband's grandmother speaks often of the wonderful things that Bob used to cook.

This photo is one of the focal points of my collection of wedding ephemera.  
In the picture are Sarantos and Banyota Michelopolos who were Bob's god-parents.

Several years ago, I asked Grandma what her favorite dish was that Bob used to cook.  I was intrigued to learn that it was a dish called Pastitsio ~ a dish from the Greek homeland, and perhaps even a specialty in one of Anastassios's Pittsburgh restaurants.  Unfortunately, the family recipe was never written down.  So I set about the task of learning about Pastitsio in order to create a new family recipe.  After several batches, I earned the approval from Grandma that I had hit the mark!

This dish reminds me of a cross between a lasagna and a moussaka.  The flavors are complex and the textures of the pasta, the creamy bechemel and the hearty meat sauce harmonize beautifully together.

Here is my new Kolovos family recipe:


This rich and hearty Greek comfort food combines a savory tomato sauce,creamy béchamel, pasta and a meat filling.

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds ground beef or ground turkey
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato puree
  • 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoons ground nutmeg (plus more for seasoning béchamel sauce)
  • 1 1/2 pounds large elbow macaroni
  • 2 sticks butter (16 Tb.), plus 2 tablespoons
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 18 oz. crumbled feta cheese
  • 8 cups lowfat milk
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
 For the meat sauce:
  1. In a large saucepan, heat oil.  Add onions and cook over medium heat until translucent.  Add ground meat and cook till no longer pink.  Add garlic and cook mixture until meat begins to brown.  
  2. Add red wine to pan and simmer over medium-high heat until the wine is reduced by half. Add tomato puree, crushed tomatoes and water. Season with salt, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.
For the macaroni layer:
  1. Cook macaroni in salted water: drain. Return to cooking pot and add 2 Tablespoons of butter, egg whites and 6 oz. of feta cheese.  Mix well, set aside. 
For the bechamel sauce:
  1. In a stock pot, melt the 2 sticks (16 Tb.) of butter. Whisk in the flour until well blended and it just begins to brown.  Whisk in the milk, stirring continuously to avoid lumps. Bring to a simmer, whisking until sauce is fairly thick. Season with salt and nutmeg, to taste. 
  2. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the milk mixture to the egg yolks.  Whisk to combine.  Then add the egg mixture to the pot of sauce, whisking to combine.  Whisk in 6 oz. cheese.
  1. Add about two cups of your béchamel sauce to the macaroni mixture. Stir until well blended. 
  2. In a large buttered baking dish or roasting pan (the biggest you have) add macaroni mixture, then meat sauce on top. Cover with remaining béchamel and sprinkle with remaining cheese. 
  3. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven to rack and let stand for 15 minutes.
 Serve and enjoy!


  1. I loved hearing about your family history! How exciting that your husband can trace his roots back to the old country. I've recently traced some of my roots on, it was really emotional to see my grandfather's military record. The recipe is nice and I bet it tastes great. I didn't make the caramel apples this weekend, but don't give up on me! I have a good excuse, I got called into work. One day Jenn, it is going to be me and the kitchen!

  2. Always love getting the thumbs-up on a family recipe!

    I was reading History of Food the other night and was a little surprised to see lasagna was, apparently, the traditional Harvest food in certain areas of France. We're using that as inspiration for this year's Pumpkin Party menu and Pastitsio is one of the dishes we're thinking of including. Your version sounds delicious!

  3. So when are we having this...a greek happy hour perhaps or a family recipe themed happy hour?

  4. Wow, cool blog. I came to comment on your B2B post and ended up way down here, and bookmarked it. I just went to the Greek festival in San Marcos, and even though I don't cook (lack of time not talent) I think I'm going to try to cook this myself. Thank you.

  5. Jenn,

    I love love love your blog. Your family history is so fascinating, I love reading all about it, I don't want it to end, share more! Thank you for sharing this recipe and story on my page. Love seeing you as always! I love moussaka and I love lasagna so I know that I will go crazy for this! <3 Nettie


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