I literally cannot believe that after nearly 7 years of blogging and sharing recipes here with you, that I have never shared this one. It’s literally one of my MOST favorite foods ever. Gluten-free Pastitsio (pa-STEE-tsee-oh), a Greek-Style Baked Pasta / Lasagna, of sort, this is 100% my kind of comfort food. A Christmas dinner tradition, this is the food I grew up eating for the holidays. My Yia Yia always made an incredible tray of pastitsio and since her passing, we can always count on my mother to manage the task and do it as if she herself was the Greek one. Years ago, when I discovered my gluten intolerance, my mom so graciously tweaked the family recipe to be made gluten-free and I never had to be without. Overtime I have made it myself and continued to slightly adjust things and I am so honored to be sharing it with all of you, finally.
With layers of ground meat (beef or lamb) and pasta and a creamy, puffy, eggy, cheesy béchamel on top, there are hints of warming cinnamon throughout the entire dish and then it’s baked to perfection. This dish steps in where casseroles and lasagna leave off. Traditionally made with bucatini, a long tubular pasta laid out going in the same direction, I make mine gluten-free using instead an organic brown rice penne. In place of regular flour in the béchamel, I use a gluten-free all-purpose blend.
This one is absolutely definitely not grain-free or dairy-free, obviously. But seeing as I rarely consume straight up dairy (beyond butter), I simply make sure to choose a high-quality raw sheep’s milk pecorino romano and if I can find it, rather than cow’s milk for the béchamel, I opt for goat’s milk or even a raw cow’s milk. Then I eat it, enjoy it and don’t worry about a little bit of grains and dairy. If you HAVE to be grain-free, you might try making this into an actual lasagna using Capello’s grain-free lasagna sheets and possibly play with cassava flour or another grain-free blend for the béchamel, but I have never tried it this way, myself.
The top layer is made varying ways, depending on your family. Some go with a custardy egg topping, some a traditional béchamel or adding cheese, making it more of a Mornay-style sauce. My family always made ours with some sort of combo of all three. Starting first with a béchamel, adding a small amount of the romano cheese and finishing it off 5 whole eggs. The final result being a topping that is puffy, creamy, silky, lightly cheesy and a little golden brown. What more could you want at the holidays?
For the meat layer, it works beautifully with just ground beef or ground lamb or a combination of the two, you could also try ground turkey or chicken, if that’s more your style, but I have to tell you the ground lamb is truly the best option!
Consider this your warning though, while this isn’t a complicated recipe by any means, there will be a mess. A hot one. Your kitchen will look a bit like a bomb went off. There will be lots of pots, pans and bowls, but it’s fine. It’s worth it. Trust me!
That said, one of the best things about this dish is being able to prepare it ahead, meaning your holiday feast can be fuss free. By the time you are ready to eat, the kitchen explosion will be but a twinkle in your eye. You can either fully prepare the pastitsio, minus the béchamel sauce and refrigerate without baking. Bring it to room temperature, prepare the béchamel and then bake to serve. Or, you can fully make ahead, freeze and simply thaw and bake as directed. Finally, it can be baked 1 day ahead and chilled. Allow it to fully cool and cover before placing it in the fridge to stay chilled. Reheat in a 350°F oven, covered, until heated through, about 45 minutes.
- 1 ½ lb grass-fed ground beef and/or lamb
- 2 tablespoons grass-fed butter
- 1 cup grated onion
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 6 ounce can tomato paste
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 lb gluten-free brown rice penne pasta, or other gluten-free pasta of your choice
- 4 pasture-raised eggs, beaten
- 2 cups grated Romano cheese, I choose a high-quality raw sheep's milk Pecorino
Béchamel Sauce Layer:
- ½ cup grass-fed butter, 8 tablespoons or 1 stick
- ½ cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk, I use goat milk
- 5 pasture-raised eggs, beaten
- ¼ cup grated Romano cheese, I choose a high-quality raw sheep's milk Pecorino
- Make the Meat Layer: Add the butter to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Melt the butter, then add the onion. Sauté until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the ground beef and/or lamb, stirring and cooking until browned. About 6-8 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon, tomato paste and water. Simmer uncovered, until the water is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Cool. Stir in parsley and set aside.
- Make the Pasta Layer. Cook the pasta to al dente, according to directions on package. I usually cook for less time than the package says, by several minutes. You don't want to overcook the pasta. Rinse and drain the pasta well. Toss with the beaten eggs and grated cheese. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF and lightly grease a rectangular baking dish (I use an 8x12 sized pan, 9 x 13 or similarly-sized will also work) with butter or olive oil. Set aside.
- Make the Béchamel Layer: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking all the while until smooth. Gradually add the cold milk, stirring the entire time. Continue to whisk the mixture as you cook it over medium heat. Continue to cook for about 8-10 minutes until the mixture is thick coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly (at least 5 minutes). Add the beaten eggs and blend into the cooled sauce. Finally, stir in the cheese.
- Assemble the Pastitsio: Layer half of the pasta in the prepared pan, followed by all of the meat mixture, then top with the other half of the pasta. Do not pack it down. Pour the béchamel over the casserole. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.
- Cool the casserole before cutting into squares to serve.
Experiment with adding a pinch or two of nutmeg, along with the cinnamon.