Vegetarian “Pastitsio”: A rich veggie ragout layered with tube pasta and topped with a creamy béchamel sauce

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Meatless Monday favorite. The all-time-classic, Greek dish “Pastitsio” gets a vegetarian makeover. Instead of the traditional minced meat filling, a rich and flavorful veggie ragout steals the show. Actually it’s so delicious and tasty I could dive in the pan with a nice piece of crusty bread and wipe it clean. I used eggplants, mushrooms and a sweet, red, bell pepper along with onion and garlic. The trick here was to cook the eggplant without letting it absorb too much oil. So instead of the more usual sautéing method, I added it raw together with the tomatoes. The eggplant slowly cooked in the sauce and it became meltingly soft and delicious. I’m not a vegetarian but I would happily change my regular “Pastitsio” to this one, not only on Monday but also on any day.

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For the vegetable ragout

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 ½ cups Portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped in small cubes
  • 2 medium eggplants (about 300 grams), cut in 1 cm cubes
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 X 400 grams can “Mitsides” chopped tomatoes
  • 1 X 200 grams carton “Mitsides” tomato passata
  • ¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbs basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pasta

  • 1 x 500 grams pack “Mitsides” Mezzani ‘A’ pasta
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (if you don’t want to use egg, see note)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

For the béchamel sauce

  • 125 grams unsalted butter
  • 5 Tbs “Mitsides” plain flour
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan plus 1 Tbs extra
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (if you don’t want to use egg, see note)
  • Salt
  • Freshly grated nutmeg

Method

Put eggplant cubes in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Leave to stand for half an hour until you prepare the rest of the ingredients. After half an hour rinse eggplant cubes and dry on paper towels.

Make the ragout. Put olive oil in a large skillet or pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt. Sautee for a few minutes until onion is soft and begins to color. Increase heat to high and add the mushrooms. Cook stirring often until mushrooms begin to colour. Add red pepper and cook stirring for about a minute. Add eggplants and heat through. Add wine, chopped tomatoes, tomato passata, parsley, basil, the vegetable stock, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Give everything a good stir. As soon as it comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and let the ragout simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes, until eggplant is fully cooked and tomato sauce has thickened. You can make the ragout 24 hour in advance. Keep covered in the fridge.

Prepare the pasta. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 10 minutes. Drain pasta and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Return drained pasta to the pot. In a small bowl lightly beat the egg and mix in the Parmesan cheese. Add mixture to the pasta and stir well. Take a rectangular pan, approximately 25cm X 34cm big. Put about ¾ of the pasta in the pan. Top with the ragout, spreading it with a silicon spatula or spoon. Add the remaining pasta on top of the ragout (it will not cover the ragout but that’s ok).

Make the béchamel sauce. In a medium pot melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook stirring until it’s fragrant and it begins to colour, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the mustard powder. Add the milk and whisk to get rid of any lumps. Cook mixture, stirring often until béchamel has thickened to a custard consistency. Let béchamel boil and cook stirring for another minute. Take pot off the heat and add the one-cup Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine. Add egg and stir vigorously to mix.

Pour béchamel sauce on top of the pasta. Sprinkle with the extra tablespoon of Parmesan cheese and season liberally with grated nutmeg. At this stage you can leave the “Pastitsio” covered in the fridge for up to 24 hours before baking.

When it’s time to bake, preheat oven to 175 C. Bake the “Pastitsio” for 50 minutes until the top is golden. Let it stand 1 hour before cutting and serving.

Note: If you don’t want to use eggs, then omit egg from the pasta and add 1 Tbs butter. In the bechamel sauce, increase the flour by 1 tablespoon and omit the egg.

 

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