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This is a variation of the Greek meat, pasta and custard casserole. It relies on cumin rather than cinnamon to flavor the meat. The proportions of pasta, meat and custard are comparable to traditional pastitsio, as is the custard topping, but the meat sauce used in this version is completely mine.
- 1 lb lean but good quality ground beef
- 1⁄2 cup chopped onion
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 4 sprigs fresh marjoram (or a little dry marjoram but fresh is better)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1⁄2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons beef base or 2 beef bouillon cubes
- 1 (14 1/2 ounce) can chopped tomatoes (don't substitute whole canned tomatoes, they don't have as much tomato in them, says Cook's)
- 8 ounces pastitsio or 8 ounces long other slender tubular pasta
- 1⁄4 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (don't use salted butter if you can help it; unsalted has better flavor and it will show in this reci)
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups milk
- 1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, to taste
- 1⁄2 teaspoon white pepper
- 3 tablespoons freshly and finely grated hard cheese, like romano or 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese (don't even think of using that canned stuff)
- Meat Base: Saute onion with ground beef, breaking meat up as you go, until meat is almost done.
- Drain off any excess fat.
- Add garlic, cumin and flour, stir together well, and saute a minute or two more.
- Add remaining meat base ingredients and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Turn off heat and cover.
- Pasta: Cook pasta until al dente in an ample quantity of salted water to which a bit of vegetable oil has been added (helps keep strands from sticking together).
- Drain well.
- Custard Topping: Melt butter in saucepan and mix in the flour.
- Let it bubble a minute or two or until you can smell a slightly nutty flavor, but do not let it brown.
- Gradually add most of the milk, whisking.
- Let it cook about 10 minutes, stirring, until well thickened, then remove from heat.
- Mix the nutmeg, salt and pepper into the grated cheese.
- Add the eggs to the remaining milk in your measuring cup and whisk.
- Whisk the egg and milk mixture into the sauce, then whisk the cheese mixture into the sauce also.
- Assembly: Layer 1/2 of the pasta in the bottom of your baking pan.
- Then add all of the meat sauce, removing the bay leaf and any stems from the marjoram.
- Top with remaining pasta, then pour the custard sauce over all.
- If everything is still hot when you assemble it, bake at 400 degrees Farenheit for about 35 minutes.
- If merely warm, or if using a glass or ceramic pan instead of a metal one, bake for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees Farenheit.
- Top should be slightly golden, edges slightly brown.