Thursday, March 8, 2007

Pastitsio- a favorite recipe lightened

About 20 years ago I was leafing through a cookbook and came across a recipe for something I had never heard of before, pastitsio. This dish is Greek in origin and is, basically, macaroni layered with a cheesy béchamel sauce and ground meat simmered in red wine and spices. Really, what’s not to like?! I made the pastitsio and it became a favorite. Because it is a bit labor-intensive I only made it a couple of times a year, in the winter months, because it’s a great warm-you-up kind of dish.

Several years ago, as healthy eating became more of a priority, I dropped pastitsio from our dinner rotation. With whole milk, butter, cheese, red meat, and “white” macaroni, it simply didn’t fit into our diet any longer.

Recently, Jack requested it again. He said that he was really craving pastitsio, and perhaps I could lighten it up a bit. I looked up the original recipe, took pencil to paper, and devised a very good, lighter recipe. It still has the same flavor that we remember from the base recipe. Although not quite as creamy as it used to be, this version of pastitsio is still delicious and quite deserving of the preparation effort at least a couple of times a year. The meat and also the béchamel sauce can be made ahead of time, and, after it is all assembled, the pastitsio can be refrigerated for a couple of days until ready to bake or, baked then wrapped tightly in foil and frozen.

Like lasagna this is a great dish for a crowd or a buffet, and all it needs alongside is a green vegetable and/ or a crisp green salad and a glass of fruity red wine.

* Exported from MasterCook *


whole-wheat elbow macaroni sandwiches a savory filling of ground turkey simmered in a cinnamon-spiked tomato-red wine sauce, blanketed with a cheesy béchamel-type sauce.

Recipe By: Vicci

Servings: 8

Preparation Time: long

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

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1 large onion -- finely chopped

2 cloves garlic -- finely chopped

1 teaspoon olive oil

12 ounces ground turkey

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 1/4 cups dry red wine

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

8 ounces Morningstar Farms veggie crumbles -- or any crumbled meat substitute

2 teaspoons butter

1 quart nonfat milk

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 large egg yolk

3/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese -- divided

1 pound whole wheat elbow macaroni

1 teaspoon olive oil

3 large egg whites

3/4 cup fine dry breadcrumbs -- divided

In a large nonstick skillet, drizzle olive oil, then add onions and garlic and sauté over medium-low heat until the onions are just beginning to soften. Turn up the heat to medium and crumble ground turkey into the pan. Cook, stirring often, until meat begins to brown. Stir in the tomato paste, wine, spices and veggie crumbles. Bring to a low simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to cook until all of the liquid has been absorbed (an additional 20 minutes or so). Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Turn off the heat, add about a third of the milk to the butter and, using a whisk, stir in the flour until smooth. Add the remaining milk, mix until smooth, and turn the heat on to medium. Bring to a boil, stirring often. When the sauce comes to a boil, turn the heat to medium-low and, stirring constantly, cook for three minutes. Remove from heat and add in the salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg yolk. Add about a half cup of the hot milk mixture to this, dribbling the milk in slowly at first, stirring constantly to prevent curdling. Pour this egg mixture back into the saucepan, stirring it into the milk mixture. Whisk in 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese. Set aside to cool slightly.

Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain, and toss with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Beat the three egg whites in a small bowl. Add to the meat mixture (it should be at least room temperature), stirring well. Mix in 1/4 cup parmesan and 1/4 cup breadcrumbs.

Coat a 15"x10" baking pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs on the bottom. Spread half of the macaroni on the bottom of the pan. Place large spoonfuls of the meat filling over the surface of the macaroni and spread until even. Pour about half of the cream sauce over, then another layer of macaroni. Pour the remaining sauce over the macaroni and sprinkle the top with the remaining breadcrumbs. Sprinkle with a little nutmeg. Spray cooking spray over the entire surface.

Bake at 350F for about an hour, or until the casserole is set and the top is golden brown. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Per serving: 512 Calories (kcal); 12g Total Fat; 4g Saturated Fat (20.8% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 71g Carbohydrate; 71mg Cholesterol; 712mg Sodium; 7g Fiber

Food Exchanges: 3 1/2 Grain (Starch); 1 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

Serving Ideas: Serve with steamed broccoli (squeeze a lemon wedge over top) or roasted plum tomatoes and a tossed green salad.

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Per serving: 1017 Calories (kcal); 61g Total Fat; 31g Saturated Fat(55% calories from fat); 48g Protein; 62g Carbohydrate; 309mg Cholesterol; 1049mg Sodium; 3g Fiber

Food Exchanges: 3 1/2 Grain(Starch); 5 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 9 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

When I ran the ingredients of the original pastitsio recipe through MasterCook, I was shocked. Now even when I wasn’t as dedicated to healthy cooking, I probably made some changes while preparing it such as cutting down on the amount of butter and a little of the cheese, and replacing 2% milk for the whole milk. But the difference in nutritional values between the original version and my final version is amazing. Even more so, Jack said that he remembers the original tasting very close to what I made this week. Holy Cow! 1017 calories, 61 grams total fat (31 saturated!) versus 512 calories, 12g total fat (4g saturated).

Now, what we have all been waiting for—another installment in:

A Step Out of the Door, a Snap of the Camera…

Spooky found a relatively dry rock on the southern side of the house a perfect spot to sit and to absorb some sunbeams. And watch birds at the feeder. The snow is melting (again) and there are hopes of highs up into the 50’s by Saturday. Of course, it could very well be snowing and cold again by the beginning of next week. Ahhhh, spring!