I’m not to sure why casseroles have such a bad reputation. When I was a kid, I would always hear my classmates complaining about eating casseroles. I have no idea what they were complaining about. Whenever I got to eat casseroles at my babysitter’s house, they were delicious. Then again, I was only five and my babysitter had the habit of rolling cigarettes while she was cooking, but I remember her casseroles being creamy delicious messes of meat and pasta.
I have a deep love for casseroles. I like one dish meals and casseroles, with their creamy, messes of starch and meat are the ideal. Pastitsio is a great example of what I look for in a casserole: a hearty meat, a starch and some creaminess. The cinnamon spiced lamb and Parmesan béchamel make this dish extremely satisfying on a rainy day.
Pastitsio Recipe adapted from marthastewart.com
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 pound penne, cooked and drained
1 pound ground lamb
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 can (3 ounces) tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta, and drain; reserve. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, over medium heat, cook lamb, breaking apart pieces with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, 6 to 8 minutes. Add onions; cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the wine and cook over medium heat until almost all liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Stir in tomato paste, cinnamon, and 1 cup of water; simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Make Parmesan Cheese Sauce while mixture is simmering: In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat; whisk in flour until incorporated. In a slow steady stream, whisk in milk until there are no lumps.
Cook, whisking often, until mixture is thick and bubbly and coats the back of a wooden spoon, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in cayenne, if desired, and Parmesan.
Add pasta to lamb mixture; transfer to a baking dish. Pour sauce over the top, smoothing with the back of a spoon until level. Bake until browned in spots, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven; let cool 15 minutes before serving.
*Note: I was impatient and didn’t bake my casserole, instead I stirred the cheese sauce in with the pasta and topped it with some Italian parsley.