This baked pasta dish is the Greek version of lasagna — but way better. I learned how to make my dad's recipe, and it's perfect for leftovers.

  • I recently learned how to make my dad's pastitsio, a classic Greek pasta dish.

  • It's creamier than a baked ziti and meatier than your classic lasagna, and it's super easy to make.

  • I think pastitsio is far superior to lasagna and should be part of everyone's pasta repertoire.

I started my cooking projects when the pandemic began, and the person behind the camera was often my dad.

Gordon Ramsay Pasta
Me making Gordon Ramsay's tagliatelle with sausage bolognese.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I moved back home for two months while most of the US was in lockdown, and my dad became my de facto sous chef as I turned our kitchen into my new office.

We made a variety of delicious dishes, whipping up everything from Gordon Ramsay's tagliatelle with sausage bolognese to a Michelin-starred chef's spaghetti alla carbonara. One morning we even spent hours trying to make eggs in an espresso machine à la Martha Stewart.

But this story isn't about celebrity chefs. This time I turned the camera around, because the person behind my favorite pasta dish just happens to be my dad.

When it comes to pasta, the dish that I always look forward to most when I visit home is a Greek classic called pastitsio.

Greek dad proudly holding his pastitio pan
My dad proudly holding up his pastitsio.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Pastitsio (pronounced pa-stie-chio) is a baked pasta dish with ground meat and a béchamel sauce. It's creamier than a baked ziti and meatier than your classic lasagna. But overall, it's just extremely comforting — and almost impossible to eat just one serving.

I've been eating pastitsio since before I can remember, but it wasn't until I left California when I realized how much I would miss my parents' Greek cooking. There were many cold New York nights when I dreamed of a steaming bowl of avgolemono soup or a heaping plate of pastitsio as my radiator banged on and on in my tiny East Village apartment.

So after many years of lusting for my favorite homemade pasta dish, I finally asked my dad to teach me how to make his famous pastitsio.

And, lucky for you, I persuaded him to share the recipe too.

Pastitsio is made with a handful of ingredients you probably already have in your pantry and fridge.

Ingredients for Greek Dad Pastitio Recipe
My dad's pastitsio includes ground beef, penne pasta, and marinara sauce.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

To make a pan of pastitsio for the family, you'll need:

  • 1 box of penne pasta

  • 1 pound of ground beef

  • 1 egg

  • ½ jar of marinara sauce (in the words of Ina Garten, "store-bought is fine!")

  • ½ stick of butter

  • ½ an onion

  • Parsley

My dad's béchamel sauce also requires only a few simple ingredients.

Ingredients for sauce for Greek dad's pastitio recipe
The béchamel sauce includes milk, eggs, butter, and flour.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

You'll just need:

  • 2 eggs

  • 2 cups of milk (my dad always uses 2%, but any kind works)

  • 1 stick of butter

  • ¼ cup of flour

Unlike lasagna, pastitsio is a dish that doesn't require much prep.

Chopped up parsley and a knife
First I chopped the parsley.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Before I got cooking, all I needed to do was roughly chop the onion and parsley.

I also got my pan for the pastitsio ready.

Olive oil with brush in a glass baking dish
I brushed my baking dish with olive oil.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I brushed the entire glass baking dish with olive oil, which my dad says helps keep the pasta from sticking to the edges once it comes out of the oven.

Then it was time to get the noodles and onions cooking.

Onions in a pan and a pot of boiling water for pasta
As I boiled the pasta I started cooking my onions.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

After bringing a big pot of salted water to a boil, I threw in the box of penne pasta.

Then I added my chopped onions to a pan with some olive oil over medium heat.

Once the onions had browned, I threw in my parsley and ground beef.

Ground beef in pan with onions, parsley
I salted the ground beef after adding it to the pan.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Per my dad's instructions, I salted the beef and then used a rubber spatula to break up the meat.

"Let it brown and mix everything together," he told me. "Keep stirring until it's fully cooked, which takes around five minutes."

After the meat had browned, I cracked my egg right on top.

Ground beef with an egg in a pan
I stirred everything together until the egg was fully cooked.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I stirred everything together until the egg was fully cooked and had mixed with the ground beef.

My dad says this step is optional, but he swears it makes the pastitsio even fluffier and tastier.

Then I poured half a jar of marinara sauce into the mix.

Ground beef in a pan with marinara sauce and a pot of boiling water with pasta
My dad recommends using marinara over tomato sauce.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

My dad said you could also use tomato sauce for this recipe, but he believes marinara sauce is easier "and also just tastes better."

I mixed everything together and let the marinara sauce cook with the ground beef for a few minutes.

Ground beef mixed with marinara in a pan
The sauce looked nice and thick after a few minutes.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

"This allows for better absorption of the flavors," my dad told me.

After a few minutes, the sauce looked nice and thick. I took it off the heat and turned my attention to the pasta.

Once the penne was al dente, I drained my pasta.

Cooked pasta in a colander in the sink
My dad adds cold water to the pot while draining pasta to help stop the cooking process.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

My dad recommends adding some cold water to the pot while draining the pasta to help stop the cooking process.

Then it was time for one of my dad's special tricks: throwing the pasta back into the pot with a few knobs of butter.

Butter in a pot over the stove
The pot, which is off the heat, should still be warm enough to melt the butter.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

The pot, which is off the heat, should still be warm enough to melt the butter.

"Butter is always good," my dad told me mischievously as he mixed the penne. "It makes the pasta nicer. Everything goes with butter."

It was time to start building the pastitsio.

Cooked pasta on the bottom of a glass baking dish
I added half the penne to the bottom layer of the pan, covering it.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

First, we covered the bottom of the baking dish with a layer of the cooked penne (using about half of the pasta).

My dad told me that, in Greece, pastitsio is traditionally made with bucatini. But once he started making it in the US, he preferred using penne.

"Penne just fits so easily into the pan," he said. "I find this works better."

Then we added all of the ground-beef mixture.

Ground beef mixture in top of pasta in glass baking dish
Then I added all the ground beef mixture on top.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

We used the entire pan of ground beef for the second layer of the pastitsio.

We added the rest of the penne on top before starting the béchamel sauce.

Cooked pasta on top of meat mixture in glass baking dish
Then I added the rest of the penne on top.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

My dad always makes the béchamel sauce right before putting the pastitsio in the oven, which he says makes it a lot easier to spread over the penne.

To start the béchamel sauce, I cracked the two eggs into a small bowl.

Two cracked eggs in a blue bowl
I then slightly beat the eggs with a fork.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I slightly beat them with a fork and set them aside, per my dad's instructions.

Then, in a small saucepan, I melted the stick of butter.

Four knobs of butter in a pan over the stove
I melted a few knobs of butter before adding the milk and flour.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

My dad wasn't lying when he said this recipe has plenty of butter.

Then I threw in the flour and milk.

Bechamel sauce foor pastitio
I added the milk slowly while continuously stirring the sauce.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

My dad said it's important to slowly add the two cups of milk while simultaneously mixing the sauce over medium-high heat.

My dad got behind the stove to show me how to properly mix the béchamel.

Greek dad cooking pastitio sauce
My dad mixing the béchamel sauce.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

The key is to slowly add the beaten eggs once the sauce starts thickening.

"You just have to feel it," he told me sagely.

And make sure you keep stirring, or the sauce will stick to the bottom of the pan.

My dad continued mixing the sauce until it came to a boil.

Bechamel sauce for pastitio
My dad told me to take the sauce off the stove after I saw the first bubble.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

The second you see those first few bubbles, take it off the stove, he told me.

It should take, at most, about five minutes total.

Once the sauce was ready, my dad poured it on top of that second layer of pasta.

Greek dad putting bechamel sauce over pasta for pastitio
Once the sauce was ready, my dad poured it right on top of the penne.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

It was time to get baking.

I put the pan into the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes, until the top layer had slightly browned.

Greek pastitio
The pastitsio takes about 30 minutes to bake in the oven.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Overall, the pastitsio takes an hour total to make. And one pan can easily serve up to eight.

All that was left to do was dig in!

Plate of pastitio with feta cheese
The pastitsio tastes even better if you add some feta cheese.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I've had more plates of pastitsio than I can count, and it has never, ever let me down. The meat filling is so savory and comforting with the penne, while the béchamel sauce is light and creamy. Plus, it's a nice contrast to the texture of the pasta on top — which has a great crunch.

And, as with all Greek dishes, the pastitsio tastes even better if you add some feta cheese.

I may be biased, but I think my dad's pastitsio is way better than lasagna — and should be in everyone's pasta repertoire.

Greek dad proudly holding a plate of his pastitio
My dad proudly holding up a plate of his famous pastitsio.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Pastitsio is super easy to make, takes only an hour total in the kitchen, and is perfect for a dinner party or as a dish that'll give you plenty of leftovers. And it's a low-lift endeavor compared with most lasagna recipes.

Plus, eating pastitsio just feels like a hug. It's creamy and savory without being too heavy — I've enjoyed it both on rainy days and in the middle of California summers. And it goes great with a glass of red (or a cheeky bottle of Prosecco).

No matter the weather, day, or occasion, pastitsio has long been a family favorite. My grandma — who, like me, wasn't the most naturally talented in the kitchen — used to make it often for my dad when he was a kid.

We'll probably never really know whether cooking skills (or lack thereof) are passed down from generation to generation. But, thankfully, great recipes can be inherited too.

Now I'm passing this one down to you.

Want to learn more Greek recipes? You should try my dad's favorite quick Greek pasta dish, and his Greek roasted potatoes.

Read the original article on Insider