This is a version of the Mediterranean dish variously called Pasticcio, Pastitsio, Pastizzio etc. The origin of this dish is obscure, and various nations lay claim to its invention, but it seems to be universally popular in the Northern Mediterranean - Italy, Greece and Turkey in particular.
The significant elements of the dish are minced meat (lamb, beef, or pork), pasta (usually a tubular type like macaroni), and a creamy white sauce (Béchamel). The exact ingredients vary according to taste, so you can ring the changes a bit - particularly in relation to adding spices. Some versions have Oregano, some have Cinnamon, Allspice and Nutmeg, some have Mint and/or Parsley. Opinions also vary about whether you should add tomatoes. As you can see, this is a very flexible recipe! My version has loads of vegetables in it too. I'm deliberately not giving measurements and quantities here - you just have to "play it by ear".
Everyone who reads this blog knows that Jane and I eat meat, but we are also very keen to include as many vegetables as possible in our food. How about this? Do you think that's enough?
That is Onion, Swede turnip, Carrot, Celeriac and Garlic. The Carrots and Celeriac were home-grown.
Having prepped the veg, I sweated it in a little vegetable oil, over a low heat, until it had gone soft but had not browned.
Meanwhile I browned my mince in a separate pan. I used Beef, but Lamb or Pork would do just as well.
Then I added the meat into the pan containing the vegetables, along with a tin of chopped tomatoes and my flavourings. I used a generous amount of dried Oregano, some Fennel seeds and just a little ground Allspice (Jamaican Pepper). Also included were a tablespoon of concentrated beef stock and some salt and pepper.
Covering the pan with its lid, I left it to slowly simmer for about an hour and a half, after which it was removed from the heat and allowed to cool.
Later I cooked my pasta. I used Penne, because that is my favourite, but I suppose Macaroni would have been more traditional. Something "tubular" is best.
When the pasta had reached the "al dente" stage I drained it and put it to one side while I made my Béchamel sauce. I used the Roux method, cooking the flour and butter together first, before adding the milk little by little, stirring constantly. When the sauce was nice and smooth I added some grated Extra Mature Cheddar cheese and again stirred the sauce until the cheese was fully incorporated.
Next step was to mix the meat sauce with about two-thirds of the pasta and arrange it in a deep Pyrex dish.
Then the remaining pasta is added as an upper layer.
The Béchamel sauce is then poured over the top of everything. A final sprinkle of grated cheese and a few grinds of black pepper adds the finishing touch.
Finally it goes into the oven for about 20 - 25 minutes at 180C until the sauce is golden and bubbling.
This is the ultimate Comfort Food dish. Creamy, savoury, unctuous, satisfying!
It is also a comprehensive meal in its own right - containing meat, dairy, carbohydrate and vegetables.
I served the dish with a green salad comprising Lettuce, Endive, Watercress and ordinary Cress, along with a nice sharp French Dressing.
A glass of Italian red wine would of course be entirely appropriate to accompany this meal!