Pastitsio Equals Good Greek Living!

Pastitsio Equals Good Greek Living

I have never been to Greece and I’m not  really close to many Greek people. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know a few things about Greek heritage does it?  I’m always amused when the few Greek acquaintances I have will mention a personal quality, or describe some endearing foible of a family member and then say something like,  “well, we’re Greek and you know Greeks….”   I don’t but then I do.  Because we are all Greeks really.  Or some sort of thing like that.

Upon consideration and perhaps even some research I will ponder what they have told me and usually realize that being Greek has nothing to do at all with what they just told me!  You see, most human qualities are, in fact,  universal.   Even those we associate with our heritage.   Sure, we like ascribing certain attributes to our own cultural  groups because that is what we know.  Right?   So if you are Greek the love of big families, good food, pressures to get married to our own,  etc. all become Greek.   If you are Italian, well, then they are Italian.  And so on.   You name your cultural background and I’ll say, “Well, you are [fill in the blank], and you know the [fill in the blank].    You will shake your head with familiarity.

And I’ll be right too!   So even though I don’t know many Greeks real well,  I still feel like I know a bit about their values and heritage.  I’ll just look inside my own self and my own heritage.

Also…it might sound a bit silly but…now bear with me here…

* * *

The surprise hit movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” came out only a few short months before my future spouse and I were just starting to get serious with each other.  Our families had not yet met.

My honey comes from a very large Persian family.   They emigrated to the US throughout the 1970’s and early 80’s  and while rebuilding their lives found comfort here by bringing along their own heritage and traditions.

On the other hand, I came from a decidedly not-so-large WASP family — not unlike the one depicted in the movie.

My side of the family considered a ‘large family meal’ one where there was one extra guest at the table, usually my grandmother who we saw once a month even though she lived next door.  It wasn’t that  we didn’t ever get together and eat.  It was just something that we thought Christmas was for and once a year was enough.

To my Persian in-laws,  inviting “just the close family” to dinner keeps the  guest list down to a manageable two or three dozen eaters.

So we enjoyed quite a bit of laughter throughout the movie at the expense of the cultural differences and misunderstandings between the fictional Portokalos family – played by Nia Vardalos, Michael Constantine, Lanie Kazan and Andrea Martin – and the WASPy  fiance, Ian Miller – played by  John Corbett.

When the credits rolled my soon to be partner-in-life leaned over to me and said:

“So, you thought that was funny did you?  Well….get ready then.”

He knew then what I hadn’t yet learned: when any two families come together from any two different cultures there are always going to be some misunderstandings, misadventures and personal adjustments to make along the way.   Some of them will even be funny and worthy of including in a screenplay.

Its been many, many years and I now feel as if I’ve lived this movie and also learned its lessons.  Becoming the newest family member in such a tight knit family (of dozens) has been one of the the greatest gifts in my life. The Greek good living and heritage depicted in the movie really does belong to everyone and all cultures.

In this regard it doesn’t matter what ethnicity you come from, Persian,  Italian, African, American, African-American, Danish, or whatever.  We’re all Greek.   Experiencing the ups and downs of daily life through the lens and security of membership in a family is what good living means.

In the end it just takes some time for our true shared human natures to take over and show us what we have in common with each other.  This was the lesson of the movie and it is a good lesson for all of us regardless of our cultures or national origin.      Don’t sweat our differences.   Good living is about seeing what we share; as families, friends, countrymen, or world citizens.

Pastitsio Equals Good Greek Living

So about those ‘just the close family dinners’?   I now go to them weekly.  Everyone shows up, tons of food is put on the table and we get to be together for a few hours to laugh, cry, and share our way through whatever is going on in our lives.   Good news or bad, its all good living when it is with family.  Just like in the movies.

And  like the movies,  big families and good living means big food.   It has been a big adjustment for me to learn to learn how to cook for larger groups.  “The buffet” has become my friend and the “sit down dinner party” has become a memory.   This Greek pastitsio is the perfect “big family dish” and so I cooked it up when it was my turn recently to host “just the close family.”

Like its Italian cousin the lasagna,  Greek pastitsio is rich, nourishing and can be made in advance.   It can also feed a lot of people!   Just pop it in the oven when it is time to enjoy the big family get-together so you aren’t stuck in the kitchen.

Yeah, a lot of pots get dirtied in its making but then what are big families for if not to help you with the dishes?

Some day it would be fun to get a bunch of Greeks and “my Persians” together for dinner.   They could argue about whose family is more eccentric.   Or which culture gets to claim credit for kebabs.  And just for dessert I would throw some gas on the fire and ask innocently enough which culture makes the best baklava?

Then the food would come out and we would all realize what a good life it is to be gathered together and living our lives with family.    Greek style.

Pastitsio Equals Good Greek Living

If you are lucky there are leftovers!

This post is part of an entry to a contest sponsored by Fage Greek Yogurt.   They are making me add this little bit of language as well:

“As a selected blogger, I have been entered for the chance to win a trip to Greece courtesy of FAGE. You too can enter to win one of three trips to Greece by entering the FAGE Plain Extraordinary Greek Getaway here:”

The truth is, you don’t have to offer me a chance at a trip to Greece to use Fage Greek yogurt or talk about good living.  Writing about life and family is kind of what do all the time, right?   For the record, I use Greek yogurt all the time too and you should as well. Its creamy, tangy, healthy goodness finds its way into all manner of soups, salad dressings and breakfasts at our house.   I don’t even buy sour cream anymore.  In this dish Fage Greek Yogurt adds just the right amount of zip to the creamy béchamel so it can stand up to to the strong flavors of the sauce.

Pastitsio Equals Good Greek Living

 Pastitsio Equals Good Greek Living

Pastitsio Equals Good Greek Living


Adapted from Ina Garten

This is what you will need:

    For the tomato meat sauce:
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound lean ground lamb
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 large cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes in puree
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • For the béchamel :
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan or Kasseri cheese
  • 2/3 cup Fage Total Greek Yogurt.
  • 12 ounces (3/4 pound) small shells
  • 2 extra-large eggs, beaten

This is how you make it:

  1. For the sauce, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot.
  2. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the beef and lamb, and sauté over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until it’s no longer pink, crumbling it with the back of wooden spoon.
  4. Drain off any excess liquid, add the wine, and cook for 2 more minutes.
  5. Add the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and cayenne, and continue cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes.
  7. Set aside.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  9. For the béchamel, heat the milk and cream together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until simmering.
  10. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter.
  11. Add the flour and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly for 2 minutes.
  12. Pour the warm milk and cream mixture into the butter and flour mixture, whisking constantly. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, until smooth and thick.
  13. Add the nutmeg, 1 tablespoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper.
  14. Stir in 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of the tomato and meat sauce,
  15. And allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  16. Stir in the yogurt and set aside.
  17. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente.
  18. Don’t overcook, because the pasta will later be baked.
  19. Drain and set aside.
  20. To assemble, brush a large (at least 12 x 14 x 2-inch) square or oval baking dish with olive oil.
  21. Add the pasta to the tomato and meat sauce, stir in the eggs, and pour the mixture into the baking dish.
  22. Spread the béchamel evenly to cover the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.
  23. Bake for 1 hour, until golden brown and bubbly.
  24. Set aside for 10 minutes and serve hot.
Pastitsio Equals Good Greek Living

Who gets to help with the dishes?


About Trevor Kensey

To be truthful, I don't know what “Sis. Boom. [blog!]" means either. The name implies something explosive just happened I suppose I would like it if each post would make made a small 'boom' in your day or at least a fizzle. Even though a recipe is included with every post I have a hard time calling this a "food blog" or even myself a "food blogger".

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  1. Oooh, good luck winning a trip to Greece! I love Fage. (DOes that buy you any points? No? Well, I stand by it. It’s always in my fridge.)

    It’s funny how many people I know relate to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. My mom is one of 13. My husband completely related to Aiden (whatshisface will always be Aiden to me) being swarmed and passed around the first time he met the whole family. We were Irish Brooklynites instead of Chicago Greeks, though. I think his brain shorted out the fourth time he had to wipe my aunt’s fuschia lipstick off his cheek. HA!

  2. Wonderful post, as always! And, I truly hope you win the trip to Greece – it’s a very spiritual place. So gorgeous with wonderful people, great food & unmatched history.

    I’m sure everyone will tell you where to go & what to do, but John & I discovered the Benaki Museum a bit off the beaten path with a spectacular balcony cafe in Athens – most of the people eating there were Greek – it was just the break we needed from the madding crowd!

  3. Thanks Ei, that is my point exactly! We can all identify with these qualities.

  4. Ahhh *clapping* tears of joy! Well, at least you know this Greek, but maybe not too too well. I am very proud of your pastichio and love the story about relating your man’s Persian big fat family to your waspy family. Big Fat Greek Wedding can be applied to everyone and all cultures, not just us Greeks. Regarding the pastchio you made, I actually have never tried making bechemel with yogurt, but keep see recipes popping up.. must try that! Nice shots with the dirty dishes at the end… yeah, it gets MESSY! But it’s so good and if you have a large family come over… there is always someone that can help with the dishes 😛 OPA!

    I hope you make it to Greece one of these days. Of course I am biased and will tell you its fantastic. But it is. And Santorini really looks the same as it does in the post cards. My fiancee is Oregonian so it should be pretty interesting when his family meets mine at your wedding which will be at a Greek church in LA 😛 heheh

  5. OMG, yum! This looks fantastic. I work in the Greektown area of Chicago, and their food is so delicious. Hope you make it to Greece soon!

  6. Loved your post! I used to make Pastitsio a very long time ago…you just inspired me to make it again. Yours looks perfect!

  7. Oh. Wow. This sounds so good! Of course, anything with lamb is always good, but if you add cheese and yogurt, then it must be divine!
    I’ll have to see if our local store has Greek yogurt. We’re a small town, so I’m kinda doubtful…but my fingers are crossed!

  8. Love your post. Good luck, hope you win! My family has changed over the years to include a few who have made my life richer in many ways because they are different from what I grew up with…a typical, large, white family. I have an African American granddaughter, a mixed Asian son-in-law (and a 1/2 Asian grandson), a Russian granddaughter, and we adopted 2 older Moldovan orphan girls when our kids were grown. We have “adopted” a family from Singapore who is attending graduate school here in AZ. I have several “kids” who are not really my kids from all around the world. And a few days ago someone who does not know me called me “racist”…now that is the joke of the neighborhood…being racist is one term that does not fit me. And your big family sounds wonderful…and so do your foods. One of the reasons I love this group is that we are from everywhere.

  9. Well it isn’t easy to make a casserole-type dish like this look so beautiful, but you really did manage it. It looks soooo delicious. I have Fage for breakfast every morning, so you don’t have to convince me that it’s good! What an insightful post this was, and you are so right about people’s differences etc. I come from a smallish family like yours and have never been thrown into a large family group on a regular basis … don’t know how I would handle it, but hopefully with humor and aplomb like you! I really hope you win, you totally deserve it!!

  10. I am ready for lunch after seeing that last photo…how fabulous this must taste. And I don’t think I’d get any complaints (a rare occurrence with a new entree). Your family gatherings sound so fun…my hubby always volunteers to do the dishes…I’ve tasted his cooking and I think we have found our appropriate roles!

    Have a great weekend, and good luck with the giveaway!

  11. Nancy/My Picadillo says:

    Great post! I love your blog =)

    Hope you win the trip…Gia’sou!

  12. Great post! I love your blog =)

    Hope you win the trip…Gioa’sou!

  13. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post! It is all about good living, isn’t t?! Your table setting looks so inviting and your dinner looks marvelous. Perfect for a large family gathering.

  14. I loved this post and stories of your spouse’s big Persian family. I come from a big Italian family and so does my hubs. We have watched Mt Big Fat Greek Wedding so many times and laugh like crazy:) Your patsitsio is gorgeous. Good luck and hope you get to Greece:)

  15. Here’s to a Big Fat Greek Winning. I would enter but my town probably has no idea what Fage Greek yogurt is. Looks downright casserole-ishly good (my small family term). As do the prep photos! You must see the MBFGW musical, I’ve seen it twice, you must!

  16. Anonymous says:

    A “type” of pastitsio maybe but not the original one I’m afraid… Fage is great though!

  17. cecilia w says:

    formyself, i am a only child to a hispanic family, but i sure had the relative, all living close to our vacinity. My mother came from a family or 8. my dad from 6. So if we just invited the immedialty family members to a party, that was enough, it would fill our house. Anyhow, it brings lots of good memories on how close nit we are, and i brought up my 2 sons the same way, u can always count on ur family. Taught them how to cook mexican food enough to feed a army or too. thanks fo all the good memories after reading your story.