Nikki’s Perfect Pastitsio Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep: 45 min. Bake: 50 min.
With seasoned ground beef, pasta and a rich cheese sauce, pastitsio is a tasty casserole everyone will love.

Updated: Apr. 10, 2024

Pastitsio is a beloved Greek recipe made with layers of pasta, meat sauce and cheese. It’s similar to lasagna, but this is no ordinary casserole. Pastitsio features a thick layer of tube-shaped pasta layered with a spiced meat sauce followed by a generous topping of Parmesan bechamel sauce. The dish makes a striking presentation when it’s sliced.

The recipe makes a whopping 12 servings, so it’s perfect for a big family meal or dinner party. It’s one of those Greek recipes that’s easy to reheat, too, so you can enjoy slices as a work lunch or a weekend snack.

What is pastitsio made of?

This recipe is sometimes called “Greek lasagna” because it’s a layered casserole that resembles an Italian lasagna. The first layer in pastitsio is cooked pasta. The traditional variety is bucatini, but short, tubular kinds of pasta can be used as well.

The next layer is a meat sauce made with beef, lamb or a combination of the two. The meat is simmered with tomato, aromatics and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

The final layer is a thick bechamel sauce made with Parmesan cheese. Bechamel is one of the five mother sauces in French cuisine. For the sauce, butter and flour are briefly cooked together to make a roux, which thickens the sauce when whisked with simmering milk. The Greek take on bechamel adds eggs or egg yolks to the mixture for a richer color and texture.

The whole thing is baked until it’s hot and set, making it easy to slice. It’s definitely a traditional Greek food worth trying!

Ingredients for Pastitsio

  • Pasta: Cooked pasta makes the base of this big casserole. Our recipe uses penne—you can use other tube shapes like rigatoni, elbows or bucatini, a thick, spaghetti-like pasta with a hole in the center. (Check out our ultimate guide to pasta shapes for more ideas.)
  • Parmesan: Sprinkles of grated Parmesan are everywhere in this dish. The cheese is tossed with the cooked pasta, spread over the meat sauce and melted into the bechamel sauce. For the best, freshest flavor, pick up a wedge of good-quality Parmesan cheese and grate it yourself.
  • Ground Beef: Use a lean cut like sirloin or 90% lean. Ground beef with more fat works just fine in this recipe, just be sure to drain off the excess grease after browning the meat.
  • Tomato Sauce: Combined with ground beef, diced onion, garlic and warming spices, tomato sauce is part of the savory center of the casserole.
  • Cinnamon: The meat sauce for pastitsio has a hint of cinnamon, often a traditional ingredient for both sweet and savory Greek dishes.

Directions

Step 1: Prepare the pasta

Adding parmesan cheese and paste in grated baking dishTMB Studio

Grease 13×9-inch baking dish, and set aside. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta, then toss it with melted butter and a little grated Parmesan cheese. Spoon the pasta into the prepared baking dish.

Editor’s Tip: When making the pasta, err on the side of al dente since the pasta will be baked later.

Step 2: Make the meat sauce

Adding cooked beef over pasta in a large skilletTMB Studio

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the crumbled ground beef and chopped onion, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the meat is no longer pink, breaking up any large beef crumbles. Drain. Add the minced garlic. Cook for another two minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, salt and cinnamon, and heat through. Spoon over the pasta in the baking dish. Sprinkle 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese over the top.

Editor’s Tip: Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to brown ground beef, so you end up with perfect meat for the sauce.

Step 3: Prepare the bechamel sauce

Melt butter in a large saucepan and whisk flour, salt and pepperTMB Studio

Have the beaten eggs ready in a small bowl. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the cubed butter. Whisk in the flour, salt and pepper until the mixture is smooth, then gradually add the milk. Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring often. Let it simmer for one two minutes or until it thickens.

Whisk a small amount of hot mixture into eggs in a small bowlTMB Studio

To temper eggs, whisk a small amount of the hot milk mixture into the bowl with the eggs. Then, add the eggs to the rest of the sauce in the pan, whisking constantly. Bring the sauce to a gentle boil; cook and stir it for two minutes.

Editor’s Tip: Whisk constantly when adding milk to the roux (the flour and butter mixture). The whisk will help break up any lumps of flour so your sauce is silky smooth.

Step 4: Bake

Pour bechamel sauce over beef mixtureTMB Studio

Pour the bechamel sauce over the beef in the baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining grated Parmesan cheese over the top. Cover the dish, and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover, and bake the pastitsio for 30 to 40 minutes more, until the top is golden brown.

Serve Pastitsio with fresh veggiesTMB Studio

Editor’s Tip: Let the pastitsio cool for about 10 minutes. You want everything to rest and come together before slicing and serving it.

Recipe Variations

  • Try it with Greek cheese: If you live near a good cheese shop, make a more traditional pastitsio by using Greek kefalotyri cheese instead of Parmesan. It’s a salty, flavorful cheese made with sheep or goat’s milk.
  • Use a different meat: Make a lighter version of pastitsio by substituting ground turkey for the ground beef.
  • Add some spice: Along with cinnamon, try adding more warming spices to the dish like ground nutmeg and allspice. Add these in small quantities to start, tasting the meat sauce before deciding to add more.

Can you make pastitsio in advance?

Save some time the day you want to serve pastitsio by preparing it the night before. Cook the pasta, meat sauce and bechamel following the recipe directions, but keep them separate. Allow them to cool completely, and then layer them in the greased baking dish. Cover the dish tightly and stash it in the fridge. The next day, bake the casserole as directed, adjusting bake time as needed.

How to Store Pastitsio

Store leftover pastitsio tightly covered or in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.

How to Freeze Pastitsio

To freeze an entire baked pastitsio, let it cool completely. Wrap the pastitsio tightly and freeze it; it will keep for two to three months. When you’re ready to reheat it, let it thaw first in the fridge overnight. Cover the pan with foil, and reheat the casserole in a 350° oven until it’s warmed through. It’s one of our favorite freezer casseroles!

Pastitsio Tips

Pastitsio with fresh veggies in a plateTMB Studio

Does pastitsio take a long time to make?

This dish consists of three layers that need to be prepared before being layered and baked in the oven, so it does take some time. However, if you’re used to making lasagnas or casseroles it will be much the same process. There are a few time-saving options: Prepare pastitsio the night before to bake the next day, bake it early in the day, then reheat slices later on or freeze the entire baked casserole to reheat in the future.

What can you serve with pastitsio?

A delicious Greek salad is one of the best things to serve with pastitsio. The crisp lettuce, fresh vegetables and acidity in the vinaigrette cut through the richness of the casserole.

Watch how to Make Nikki’s Perfect Pastitsio

Nikki's Perfect Pastitsio

Prep Time 45 min
Cook Time 50 min
Yield 12 servings

Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 cups uncooked penne pasta
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1-1/2 pounds ground sirloin
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
  • BECHAMEL SAUCE:
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 cups 2% milk
  • 2 large eggs, beaten

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Toss with butter; add grated Parmesan cheese. Transfer to a greased 13x9-in. baking dish.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. In a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat 8-10 minutes or until beef is no longer pink, breaking beef into crumbles; drain. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes longer. Stir in tomato sauce, salt and cinnamon; heat through. Spoon over pasta. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.
  3. In a large saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until smooth; gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir 1-2 minutes or until thickened.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk a small amount of hot mixture into eggs; return all to pan, whisking constantly. Bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir 2 minutes. Pour over beef mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  5. Bake, covered, 20 minutes. Bake, uncovered, 30-40 minutes longer or until golden brown.

Nutrition Facts

1 piece: 332 calories, 18g fat (10g saturated fat), 98mg cholesterol, 718mg sodium, 24g carbohydrate (6g sugars, 1g fiber), 20g protein.

My mother used to work so hard in the kitchen to make this classic Greek dish, and the results were always well worth her effort. My recipe for pastitsio is easier, a bit lighter and every bit as great as Mom's.—Nikki Tsangaris, Westfield, Indiana
Recipe Creator