Astoria will always have a place in my heart.
When Ryan and I first moved to New York, the Queens' neighborhood was our home. We lived in the same apartment for four years, all the while developing a deep love for Greek food. Apparently, Astoria has the largest population of Greeks outside Greece itself. Whether you turned left or right down our street, there was an amazing Greek restaurant.
We haven't found anything like it in Manhattan—and there are definitely days we miss it.
Yesterday was one of those. Instead of journeying to our old stomping grounds, I decided to give the cuisine a shot in my own kitchen. I landed on pastitsio, one of my husband's favorite Greek dishes. The recent issue of Bon Appetit gave me guidance with its mac 'n' cheese story (in it was a recipe for pastitsio with a Moroccan twist).
It turned out delicious, and I'm pretty confident the Greeks in Astoria would agree. I love that the recipe uses ground lamb, which isn't always the case with other online pastitsio recipes I've found. There are a lot of steps (and pans), but if you're looking for a stick-to-your-ribs meal, this is a good bet. Plus, it makes a ton, so you'll likely have leftovers.
Lamb and Feta Pastitsio (adapted from Bon Appetit)
Yield: 10 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cups red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pound ground lamb
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes in juice
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups whole milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons AP flour
3 eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1 pound penne or similar noodles
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Add onion and garlic; saute until onion is transluscent, about 5 minutes. Add ground lamb, break into small pieces and and cook until it browns, about 8 minutes. Stir in tomatoes (with juice), herbs, 1 tablespoon cumin, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and tomato paste. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until mixture is thick, stirring often, about 15-20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Meanwhile, simmer 2 cups of milk in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and cover. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until smooth. Reduce heat to medium-low and whisk roux until pale golden, about 3 minutes. Gradually add warm milk to roux, whisking until sauce is smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk 1 cup of milk and 3 egg yolks, then whisk in sauce. Stir in feta, 1/2 teaspoon of cumin and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking often, and reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until thickened. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 14-cup baking dish. Cook pasta about 3/4 of the way (it will cook additionally in the oven). Drain noodles and return to pot, stirring in 2 tablespoons of butter, egg whites and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.
4. Spread half of pasta in the dish. Add lamb mixture. Top with remaining pasta. Spoon feta sauce over the noodles. Bake until top starts to turn golden, about 40 minutes.
A lot of work, but it's a feast for the gods—and you.