Lamb and Beef Pastitsio
Growing up, my mother always allowed my sister and I to choose what we wanted her to make for dinner on our birthdays. Since pastitsio takes quite a while to make, my mother rarely made it and so I always requested it on my birthday because she couldn't say "no" then. However, unless you grew up in a Greek family, frequent Greek restaurants, or have had the privilege to travel to Greece, you probably have never heard of Pastitsio (pronounce "pa-STEE-tsee-oh", and, if you are familiar with the Greek alphabet, the Greek spelling is παστίτσιο). To describe this very traditional Greek dish in a sentence, it is a Greek baked ziti (or lasagna) with a rich lamb/beef tomato sauce and a thick and creamy béchamel sauce, topped with freshly grated cheese. It truly combines some of the most amazing creations in the culinary world, packing loads of flavor and many different textures that will please your taste buds for sure. I use the baked zit (or lasagna) analogy to give you a visual reference for the dish, however, it tastes very little like a traditional the traditional italian dish due to the addition of unique spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice.
Pastitsio consists of three main components: Pasta (ziti), Tomato sauce (with lamb/beef), and Béchamel. These components are prepared separately and layered in that order. While the spices used in pastitsio may at first appear quite strange to you and more likely to appear in a pumpkin pie recipe (or our <a href="http://www.cookingandbeer.com/2012/09/pumpkin-pinwheel-cookie-sandwiches/">pumpkin pinwheel cookie sandwiches!</a>), they go very well with lamb and tomato to create a unique, savory sauce that will transport you to the Mediterranean before you can say "Greece". The béchamel starts by preparing a <a href="http://www.cookingandbeer.com/2012/08/here-a-roux-there-a-roux-everywhere-a-roux-roux/">roux</a>and adding quite a bit of milk and just a touch of nutmeg and allspice to create a special sauce that tops the dish.
While pastitsio is not a dish that you are going to prepare on a whim (and please, avoid the short cut recipes that are all over the web . . . good meals take time and you will definitely be rewarded by making pastitsio in a traditional fashion), it is a dish that you can prepare on a snowy weekend day or just to treat your significant other to a lovely dinner at home one night. Better yet, if you are going to be attending a potluck in the near future (and we all know that potlucks are like a dime a dozen around the holidays), pastitsio is the perfect dish to prepare since you can almost be guaranteed that nobody else will prepare it and the it will be the talk of the party (lets face it, we all hate going to a potluck and there are 43 salads and 78 store bought baked goods that all resemble cupcakes or pies).
For the beer pairing, well, this is a tough one given the wide range of textures and flavors in pastitsio. However, to accentuate the unique spices in the tomato sauce, I would suggest a harvest ale (like a Märzen brewed with some spices) or even a spiced pumpkin ale (try to go with one that has more spice than pumpkin). These beers will definitely bring out the cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice and really compliment the dish in general.
So, please take the time to give pastitsio a try . . . I guarantee that you will love this traditional greek dish, or your money back (well, I guess there is no money back guarantee since you are not purchasing anything from us, but, you get the idea.)