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Pastitsio + Stitches = PASTITCHIO!?

Funny how a day can turn on its head in a matter of seconds, isn't it?  It was a sunny Saturday with the perfect weather for some college football.  A mere hour away from the kick-off of the BIGGEST game day in our house (Michigan State vs. Notre Dame); a pan heavy with the comforting smell of the Mediterranean weaving the scent of comfort and mischief through our weekend rituals.  The kids are outside enjoying the perfect afternoon...darting past the kitchen door with squeals of playful laughter.  Until.  Until!  Sweet Thang bursts through the door holding a hand with ruby red blood that is starting to pool in his palm.  No tears, just a white-knuckle grip from his opposite hand.  We head into the bathroom to wash it off and run a swab of hydrogen peroxide across it, anticipating the stinging fizz...yet what we see goes much deeper.  Literally.  I can see the meat in the fleshy pad that lies just below the thumb.  Time for the emergency room.

Three stitches, the majority of the first half of the game (with a horrible outcome, I might add), a stop at the drug store, and a couple of hours later we walked in the front door to a welcoming pan of still-warm Pastitsio (or Pastitchio as it's come to be affectionately known around here).  Hubs kept a watchful eye and pulled it out of the oven for me while we were gone.  After the hub-bub of a long afternoon, a fat slice of this dish is just the thing to calm your spirit.  Meat tinged with a hint of cinnamon packed firmly between toothsome pasta and nestled under a rich bed of creamy bechamel sauce.  Oh yeah, it's like that.
slightly adapted from Falling Cloudberries
by Tessa Kiros
serves 10

4 Tbs. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbs. chopped parsley
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ c. white wine
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes w/ their juices
1 lb. Rigatoni (or any short pasta)
~2 Tbs. butter
½ tsp. dried mint
1 Tbs. bread crumbs
4 oz. butter
1 c. all-purpose flour
4 c. warm milk
freshly grated nutmeg

Tessa uses an oval-shaped baking dish that is 14" long, 10" wide, and 2½" deep.  It fits exactly in this pan,  I used my lasagna pan which measures 12" x 8½" x 2½" and it fit exactly.  Try to use a pan that is approximately one of these sizes.
Heat oil in a large, nonstick pan and fry onion until soft and just beginning to color.  Add parsley and garlic and cook for a few more seconds, then add both of the ground meats.  Continue to cook until all moisture is evaporated and the meat is beginning to brown.  Season with salt and pepper, then add the bay leaf and cinnamon.  When it begins to fry in the oil and brown, add wine and cook until evaporated.  Add tomatoes and ~1 cup of water and continue to cook over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until most of the moisture has evaporated, but the meat should not be too dry.  Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Cook pasta in boiling, salted water for 2 minutes less than it says on the package.  Drain and put in a bowl.  Mix in the butter, crumble the mint between your fingers and add it, and toss in the bread crumbs.  Mix well and spoon half over the bottom of your greased baking dish.  Pour the meat mixture over the top so it evenly covers the pasta.  Add the remaining pasta over the top in an even layer.  Press down with a wooden spoon so that it is fairly compact.  Set aside and make the bechamel sauce.

Melt butter in a saucepan.  Whisk in flour and cook for a few minutes, stirring.  Drizzle in warm milk slowly, whisking constantly.  Season with salt and pepper, and grate in some fresh nutmeg.  Continue cooking for ~5 minutes or so after it comes to a boil, until very thick and smooth.  Pour bechamel over the whole dish evenly.  This should fit exactly in the dish.  Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the top is nicely golden in parts.  Cool a bit before cutting into squares to serve, giving it time to set up.
Welcome Tessa Kiros this week at IHCC...we'll be cooking with her for the next six months.  Come on over and join us!
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