When I met my American Greek husband he loved eating meat, fish and shellfish. He also loved the Greek food he grew up on. I am vegetarian and John showed me that, since meat used to be an expensive commodity, a lot of Greek recipes are meat-free and based on beans, grains, goats’ cheese and yoghurt, fruit, vegetables and olive oil. We ate very well and John surprised us both by deciding to become vegetarian. However, he wanted me to taste his favourite food that his Mom and Yia Yia made for him. It is pastitsou, traditionally made from minced beef, onions, Greek pasta, Greek parmesan cheese, béchamel sauce and delicious herbs and spices. We experimented and eventually came up with courgettes (zucchini) and broccoli as a replacement for the meat. We later added Quorn (a great vegetarian mycoprotein) which can easily be used in recipes to replace meat. Our resulting meat-free pastitsou is so delicious that our meat eating friends ask us to make it for them. Here is the recipe:
1. Vegetables and Quorn
· 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
· 2 large onions finely chopped
· 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
· 250g courgettes (zucchini) diced
· 250 g broccoli chopped
· 1 tsp dried oregano
· 1 tsp dried basil
· 3 fresh bay leaves
· 3 cinnamon sticks
· 2 cloves
· 700g Quorn mince (if you can’t find Quorn use another meat-free mince)
· 400g (14oz) can chopped tinned tomatoes
· 500g (1lb 2oz) Greek Pastitsou pasta
· 50g (1¾oz) Greek parmesan cheese or Kefalotiri, finely grated
· 1tbsp melted butter or olive oil spread
3. Bechamel Sauce
· 1.2 litres (2 pints) whole milk
· 115g (4 ¼ oz) butter or olive oil spread
· 115g (4 ¼ oz) flour
· 200g (7 oz) grated Greek parmesan or Kefalotiri
· ½ tsp nutmeg freshly grated
· Salt or low salt
· Black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 150 degr C (350 degr F)
2. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan till moderately hot
3. Add the onions and garlic and cook till they soften
4. Add the broccoli and cook for 5 minutes
5. Add the courgettes (zucchini) and cook for a further 2 minutes
6. Add the Quorn, herbs and spices and cook whilst stirring until light browning just starts.
7. Add the tin of chopped tomatoes and cook on a gentle heat frequently stirring for about 20 minutes leaving the mixture still moist.
8. Remove the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves and set aside
9. Boil a large pan of water – about 4.5 litres (8 pints)
10. Add the pasta and boil until al dente – about 12 minutes
11. Drain the pasta and place in a large bowl
12. Mix with melted butter and grated cheese and set aside
13. For the béchamel sauce, melt the margarine on a low heat
14. Add the flour and stir continuously until a roux forms
15. Add the milk little by little and stirring continuously
16. When the mixture is a smooth and runny add the remaining milk and nutmeg
17. Gently bring to the boil
18. Simmer gently
19. Continue to stir until the sauce thickens and tastes cooked
20. Season to taste and set aside
21. Mix about a quarter of the sauce with the beaten eggs
22. Gently mix with the pasta and half the grated cheese
23. Mix the remaining cheese with the béchamel sauce
24. Grease a large oven proof dish (approximately 9 cm x 13 cm) with butter or olive oil spread.
25. Coat the bottom of the dish with a thin layer of Quorn and vegetables
26. Use 1/3 of the pasta to make a layer in the dish
27. Cover with 1/3 of the béchamel sauce
28. Add a layer of ½ the remaining Quorn mixture
29. Continue layering with 1/3 pasta, 1/3 bechamel sauce, and the remaining Quorn mixture.
30. Finish with the remaining pasta and béchamel sauce.
31. Cook for 30 – 40 minutes until golden and bubbling.
Enjoy with a salad of green leaves, sliced yellow peppers and cherry tomatoes with a dressing of virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and French mustard.
If you wish to make this dish lower-calorie: halve the oil and margarine and use skimmed milk.