Recipe: carb-loaded pastitsio pie

Call-back for Carbs

Pastitsio
Pastitsio
Image: Louise Hagger

Carbs are back on the menu, to the delight of food lover Laura Goodman, the author of a new cookbook celebrating carb-based meals in all their glory.

Entitled simply Carbs, it contains recipes for the classics, like macaroni cheese, as well as more novel ways to enjoy carbs, inspired by global cuisines and her own experiences of them – from Greek (skordalia potato dip with with pita chips) to Jamaican (sweet cornmeal porridge) via Californian fare and Italian-style dishes (risotto, cacio e pepe – in fact, there’s a whole chapter entitled “What Would Italy Do?”).

Meanwhile, her repertoire of “carbobowls” lend themselves well to mid-week sofa suppers, and there’s a whole chapter dedicated to chips: skin-on, truffle parmesan, chimichurri, sweet potato, chicken skin-salted (you get the idea: there’s pretty much every kind you could possibly imagine).

“I like to think of people sitting with a big bag of crisps, flicking through the book and marking things they want to make with rainbow post-its,” says Goodman. “I basically just hope they have a nice time with it. We all like to get deadly serious about what we eat now and then but it’s important to remember that food is fun.

“We’ve tried to hide it, shoving carbs aside for cauliflower rice and courgetti, but we’re not fooling anyone. Carbs are what we want – what we really, really want. They make every meal better.”

After the misery of the carb-phobic courgetti years, this is food to get excited about. Tuck in: after all, earlier this year, a major review even found that pasta can help you lose weight. And according to the British National Health Service, carbs should be the body’s main source of energy. As well as helping you to feel full, they’re an important source of fibre.

We’ll take that as carte blanche to dig in

Pastitsio

“This dish is (to be crass, but ultimately factual) a Greek lasagne, with three layers. The bottom layer is traditionally made up of ziti, which is a long tubular pasta – the shape of penne, the length of spaghetti. It’s fun and it slices up a treat, but only available from specialist suppliers, so if you can’t get it, don’t worry – any tubes will do. Next comes a layer of meat sauce, and then – obviously – a cheesy top,” says Goodman.

“The meat sauce is turned up nine notches with sweet Marsala, cinnamon and prunes, and the topping isn’t just béchamel – it’s yolk enriched pecorino béchamel that bibbles and wibbles – a very fine cheesy, custardy crown.”

Try this recipe for pastitsio, a classic Greek pasta pie dish.

Serves 5-6

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato purée
500g (1lb 2oz) minced (ground) beef
100ml (scant ½ cup) Marsala
400g (14oz) can of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp dried thyme
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
5 pitted prunes, finely chopped
25g (1oz) parsley, chopped
450g (1lb) ziti (or another pasta of your choice, ideally tubular)
115g (4oz) feta
4 egg whites
30g (1oz) Parmesan, grated
salt and black pepper

For the béchamel

90g (6 tbsp) unsalted butter

70g (½ cup) plain (all-purpose) flour

900ml (scant 4 cups) milk

80g (2¾oz) pecorino, grated

¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

4 egg yolks

Method

1. Add the olive oil to a large sauté pan and set it over a medium heat. When the oil’s hot, put the chopped onion, carrot and celery in the pan, and stir well. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until soft. Add the chopped garlic to the pan and keep going for 2 more minutes.

2. Then add the tomato purée, stir well and cook for about a minute, or until the purée shifts to a rubier shade of red.

3. Add the minced beef to the pan, breaking it up with your wooden spoon as you stir. Cook it for 5 minutes, until evenly browned, then add the Marsala to the pan, and cook until it’s almost all evaporated. Now add the canned tomatoes, dried thyme, and some salt and pepper to the pan. Stir, and then bury the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves.

4. Turn the heat down to low, put the lid on the pan and leave it to simmer for 20 minutes. Then, take the lid off and let it simmer for 5 more minutes. Stir through the chopped prunes and 15g (½oz) of the chopped parsley, put the lid on, and pop the pan to one side.

5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in plenty of salted water until just al dente (it’ll cook a bit more in the oven). When it’s done, drain it well and add it to the bottom of your oven dish. Leave it there until you’re ready for it.

6. To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat.

7. When it’s melted, add the flour, and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth and beautifully beige.

8. Add the milk bit by bit (about 100ml at a time), stirring all the while and switching to a whisk if it gets lumpy.

9. Once you’ve added all the milk, take the sauce off the heat and stir through the grated pecorino, followed by the nutmeg and some salt and pepper.

10. Now, reach for your egg yolks. Give them a quick mix with a fork, and then add a scant tablespoon of béchamel to them, mixing continuously so the yolks don’t scramble. Repeat this 3 more times to carefully warm up the yolks.

Then add the yolk mix into the pan of béchamel and stir really well. Leave it to one side.

11. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400ºF/Gas 6.

12. To assemble the pastitsio, crumble the feta and sprinkle the remaining chopped parsley into the waiting pasta. Then add half of the egg whites and toss really vigorously with your hands so that all of the pasta has met some egg white.

13. Stir the rest of the egg whites through the meat sauce, and spoon that on top of the pasta, spreading it out with the back of your spoon to form an even layer.

14. Top with the béchamel custard and sprinkle the Parmesan on top.

15. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 minutes, or until the top is evenly browned.

16. Leave it to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Carbs on sale on Amazon.com – The Daily Telegraph

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