Kali Orexi’s Pastitsio – Greek Layered Pasta Bake with Beef and Béchamel Recipe

KO’s Pastitsio is a recipe that draws on the cooking know-how of three wonderful cooks – my cousin Sofia, my mum and our Greek teacher Kyria Kaiti.
Sofia makes an oh-so-delicious moussaka. The beef sauce she makes for her moussaka has a gorgeous infusion of whole cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and bay leaves. The beef sauce is cooked for no more than an hour, so the spice flavours are balanced and heavenly and in no way overwhelmed by a heavy, overcooked tomato or beef flavour. This is the beef sauce I have used for KO’s Pastitsio.
My mum’s contribution to the recipe is the structure of the pastitsio – the layers, the quantities and the addition of grated cheese to the bechamél sauce.
Kyria Kaiti tried one of my earlier versions of the pastitsio and recommended an additional layer of béchamel on the base layer of pasta, which I added and it really works to give a lovely smooth and creamy eating feel to the pasta.
My addition to the recipe is the use of casarecce pasta, a ‘tubular’ pasta, without the hollowness of a penne or rigatoni. I feel it adds to the eating experience of this classic and much loved Greek dish!
Make it and try it now!

Kali Orexi's Pastitsio - Greek Layered Pasta Bake with Beef and Béchamel Recipe

Pastitsio is a classic Greek dish, loved by most everyone. Layered pasta, spiced meat sauce and creamy béchamel come together to satisfy the eye, the palate and the biggest appetite! Make it now and enjoy!

Course Main Course
Cuisine Greek


For the meat sauce

  • 1 cup olive oil extra virgin (EVOO)
  • 4 medium onions finely chopped (See ‘Key Points’ below)
  • 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 1.2 kg beef mince full fat
  • 1.2 kg canned diced tomato puréed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 bunch parsley finely chopped
  • 2 large sticks cinnamon
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 nutmegs whole
  • 8 cloves whole
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

For the pasta

  • 1-1.2 kg casarecce pasta – boiled to just before ‘al dente’ and cooled
  • ¼ cup olive oil extra virgin (EVOO)
  • 2 egg whites beaten till frothy
  • 200 g grated kefalotyri

For the béchamel sauce

  • 2 litres milk full-cream
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks (left over from the pasta preparation)
  • 225 g plain flour sifted
  • 100 g salted butter
  • 300 g kefalotyri finely grated

For the pastitsio topping

  • 100 g kefalotyri grated
  • olive oil extra virgin (EVOO)


Preparing the meat sauce

  1. Sautée and lightly brown the onions and the garlic

  2. Add the beef mince and push down on it with a wooden spoon to help break it down into little pieces

  3. Continue mixing and pushing down on the mince meat, until it has all cooked through and all of it has broken down into small fragments

  4. Add the puréed tomatoes and mix through

  5. Add the water to the empty tomato cans and/or food processor (if either used), swirl to release any remaining tomato residue and add the ‘tomatoey’ water to the pot

  6. Add the parsley, salt and pepper and mix in well

  7. Place the cloves and nutmeg in a closed tea strainer or bouquet-garni container. Place it in the pot and add the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves

  8. Simmer until all the water has reduced, leaving a layer of orange-hued oil on top - about an hour or so

  9. Remove the cinnamon, bay leaves and tea strainer from the pot just before using the meat sauce in the pastitsio

Preparing the pasta

  1. Combine the cooked casarecce with the EVOO and set aside to cool

  2. Once the pasta has cooled, add the beaten egg whites and the kefalotyri in turn and mix well with each addition

  3. Set aside

Preparing the béchamel sauce

  1. Place all ingredients in a pot on medium heat and stir continuously with a whisk, until all the flour is combined and the butter has melted

  2. Continue to heat and stir the sauce with a whisk until it thickens and shows the first signs of bubbling

  3. Remove from the heat and mix in the grated kefalotyri until it completely melts through

Assembling the pastitsio

  1. Place half of the pasta mixture evenly across the base of a large baking dish (my baking dish is 34cmL x 38cmW x 8cmD)

  2. Spoon approximately one third of the béchamel sauce evenly on top

  3. Depending on your preference, add all or almost all of the meat sauce and spread it evenly across the pan

  4. Add the remaining pasta evenly across the baking dish

  5. Pour the remaining béchamel sauce across the top of the baking dish

  6. Using the back of a spoon, spread the béchamel evenly across the top of the pastitsio

  7. Drizzle the top of the pastitsio sparingly with EVOO and generously top with finely grated kefalotyri

Baking the pastitsio

  1. Bake the pastitsio at 200°C for approximately 30-40 minutes

  2. Keep an eye on the pastitsio as it bakes and place pieces of either baking paper or aluminium foil over the areas that brown

  3. Continue to do this until the entire pastitsio has browned on top

Serving the pastitsio

  1. Allow the pastitsio to cool and set for 1-2 hours before serving

  2. If the pastitsio cools for longer, then reheat it covered at 180°C for approximately 30 minutes before serving

  3. Recipe makes 16-20 serves

Recipe Video

Key Points

  • If you use a food processor to chop the onions, do not over-process them, as they will release their water, turn to mush and change the texture of the meat sauce
  • You can use puréed, fresh, ripe tomatoes or canned tomatoes. This will make the sauce less or more ‘tomatoey’
  • When browning the onions, keep a close eye on them, as you do not want them to burn! A little browning will add sweetness to the sauce; however, burnt onions will impart a bitter flavour
  • As the water content in the meat sauce reduces during the simmering process, the heat setting on your cooktop also needs to be lowered; otherwise you run the risk of burning the sauce. Keep an eye on your sauce and your cook-top heat setting!
  • Do not overcook the sauce or the beautiful infusion of spices will be overwhelmed by the overcooked flavour of the oil, tomato and meat. About an hour should do it
  • If there is a small amount of residual water in the meat sauce, it will be absorbed by the pasta during the baking phase of the pastitsio
  • To make pastitsio preparation a little less onerous, make the meat sauce the night before. It saves you about 1 1/2 hours of preparation time on the day you make the pastitsio and it allows the aromas of the spices to infuse further in the sauce
  • Remove the spices, just before you use the sauce
  • When making the béchamel sauce, continuous stirring and patience is essential! If you do not stir the sauce it may ‘catch’ or burn at the bottom and then when you do stir it, small brown fragments will appear throughout your sauce – not a good look!
  • Depending on how cheesy and/or salty you like your pastitsio you can substitute the kefalotyri with kasseri for a milder cheese flavour


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