Authentic Pastitsio Recipe

What lasagna is to Italy, pastitsio is to Greece. This baked pasta dish tops neat rows of penne pasta with a homemade meat sauce spiked with clove and cinnamon and a rich, cheesy béchamel. The result is comfort food to the max — guaranteed!

This recipe has quite a few components to master before dinner makes its way to the table, but there's no need to fear with recipe developer and private practice registered dietician Kristen Carli by your side. Her instructions will help you perfect the béchamel, meat sauce, and assembly with ease. And if it seems like too much work to do on one day, you can definitely do some prep in advance. "The meat sauce is a great thing to be prepared ahead of time," says Carli. "Store in an airtight container in the fridge up to three days before baking." Your hard work will certainly be rewarded when the aromatic, cheesy pasta bake emerges from the oven!

Gather the ingredients to prepare this authentic pastitsio recipe

To make this authentic pastitsio recipe, you'll first need to make the meat sauce. To an aromatic base of garlic and onion cooked in olive oil, you'll add ground beef, canned tomatoes and tomato paste, salt, pepper, bay, and some sweet baking spices: cinnamon and cloves. For the béchamel, a butter and flour combo thickens whole milk, which is then seasoned with grated Parmesan cheese and egg yolks. The final layer is the penne pasta, which stays together in neat rows with some help from feta and egg whites. Even more Parmesan for the topping is the perfect finishing touch.

Make the sauce

To make this authentic pastitsio recipe, begin by making the savory spiced meat sauce. In a large stock pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil and then sauté the garlic and onions until soft and aromatic, which should take about five minutes. Next, add the beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and cooking about 10 minutes more, or until no longer pink.

Finally, add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, bay, cinnamon, and cloves. The latter may seem like a novel addition to a meat sauce for those more accustomed to Italian meat sauce recipes, but they give this pastitsio a rich, delicious flavor.

You will simmer the sauce for about 45 minutes, so that all the flavors have time to mix and meld. When it's done, don't forget to remove the bay leaf.

Make the béchamel

While the meat sauce simmers, make the béchamel for the authentic pastitsio recipe. Begin by melting a stick of butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Then add the flour, and whisk to combine. Stream in the milk, whisking all the while, and cook about five minutes, or until thick.

Remove the béchamel from the heat, and then, whisking constantly, enrich it with egg yolks and ½ cup of shredded Parmesan cheese. This will make the béchamel thicker and even more flavorful than before.

Cook the pasta

With both of the sauces made, it's time to cook the pasta for this authentic pastitsio recipe. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then cook the pasta according to package directions, drain, and transfer to a large bowl. Add the egg whites and feta to the cooked pasta, and stir to combine and coat.

"The egg whites provide binding to the pasta, not to mention some extra protein," explains Carli of this fairly novel addition. The result is that the pastitsio will hold its shape when sliced and served.

Layer the pasta

The time has finally come to assemble and bake this delicious, authentic pastitsio recipe. Begin by preheating the oven to 350 F, and prepare a 9x13-inch baking dish by spraying it with nonstick cooking spray.

Now, it's time to assemble the noodles into nice, even layers. To do so, arrange the penne pasta along the bottom of the baking dish, lining the noodles up evenly in rows. Stack the noodles into layers until all of the pasta is used. "I completed three layers of penne noodles," notes Carli.

Assemble and bake the pastitsio

Once the noodles have been arranged, top them with the meat sauce, spreading it out evenly. Finish things off with the thick, cheesy béchamel, and scatter Parmesan cheese over the top. Bake this authentic pastitsio recipe for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown. It will emerge from the oven smelling cheesy, aromatic, and absolutely impossible to resist.

But wait — you shouldn't dig in just yet! Carli cautions that it's important to allow the dish to sit out at least 20 minutes before slicing so that portions will hold their aesthetically pleasing shape.

Authentic Pastitsio Recipe
4.9 from 39 ratings
This authentic pastitsio recipe tops neat rows of penne pasta with a homemade meat sauce spiked with clove and cinnamon and a rich, cheesy béchamel.
Prep Time
Cook Time
authentic pastitsio in baking dish
Total time: 1.58 hours
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup flour
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 2 eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • ½ cup feta cheese crumbles
  1. In a large stock pot over medium heat, add the olive oil. Once hot, add the minced garlic and diced onions. Sauté until onions soften, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the ground beef, and break up with a wooden spoon. Cook until no longer pink, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, cinnamon, cloves, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, add 1 stick of butter to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour. Whisk to combine. Slowly stream in milk while whisking. Continue to cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened.
  5. Remove from heat. Add the egg yolks while whisking constantly. Add ½ cup of shredded Parmesan cheese. Whisk until melted and smooth. Then, set aside.
  6. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta. Cook according to package directions. Drain, and pour into a large bowl.
  7. Add the egg whites and feta cheese to the pasta. Stir to combine.
  8. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Carefully place penne noodles along the bottom of the baking dish, lining them up neatly in rows. Repeat with additional layers until all pasta is used.
  9. Cover with meat sauce. Spread evenly.
  10. Pour béchamel sauce on top. Spread evenly.
  11. Top with remaining Parmesan cheese.
  12. Bake for 30 minutes.
Calories per Serving 597
Total Fat 32.6 g
Saturated Fat 15.6 g
Trans Fat 1.2 g
Cholesterol 122.7 mg
Total Carbohydrates 46.5 g
Dietary Fiber 3.3 g
Total Sugars 9.7 g
Sodium 665.4 mg
Protein 29.1 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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