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What Is Greek Lasagna?

Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Updated May 17, 2024
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A number of Mediterranean countries each have slightly different ways of preparing the baked pasta casserole known as lasagna. The most iconic Greek lasagna recipe is called pastitsio, which literally means "it looks like a mess." When Greek lasagna's pasta, meat, cheese and sauce are meticulously crafted, however, this dish is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the stomach.

Many lasagna recipes employ pasta that is cut into wide, flat strips, which neatly divide the different sections. Greek lasagna's sections are formed in a strikingly different way. Long, tubular pastas like penne or bucatini, or even stubby varieties like elbow macaroni, are used instead of the pasta sheets. Occasionally washed in some egg for its molding qualities, the pasta layers can most effectively be laid in opposing directions when longer tubes of pasta are used.

After greasing a deep baking pan, the layers are formed with ingredients that were assembled in advance. First is a layer of pasta, facing in a uniform direction if long enough. This is often sprinkled with grated Parmesan or Kefalotiri cheese for a light salting effect. Then comes a layer of meat filling, and yet another layer of tubed pasta ‐ this time facing in the opposite direction as the first row, if possible. The Greek lasagna then is topped off with a binding creamy cheese sauce.

The basic construction of Greek lasagna is simple, but the filling requires a little finesse. Greek lasagna filling is made by grilling either ground lamb or beef in butter garlic and diced onion. Once cooked, the meat is combined with a distinctive blend of Mediterranean seasonings. These include nutmeg, cinnamon, parsley, all spice, and peeled, diced tomatoes. Some chefs include about 0.5 cup (225 ml) of white wine with these other seasonings, then continue to cook the filling until the liquor taste is burned off. Once ready, some chefs stir in an egg white to the filling to help it bind to the other ingredients.

The cream sauce, called a bechamel, is another important component of Greek lasagna that takes some concentration. Combining butter, flour, milk, salt and pepper with two more eggs and supplemental amounts of nutmeg and grated cheese, the cream sauce is responsible for binding the casserole in a way that will add, not detract from, its flavor. It will be slowly and uniformly poured over the pasta and filling layers before baking. Some chefs use an an extra-thick layer of cheese for an extra-brown coating; others use a French Morney sauce instead of the bechamel, bringing some Gruyere cheese flavor to the equation.

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