So that thing I said before? About celebrating? Scratch that.
A bunch of keys on my new computer stopped working. I have this strange hangup about brand-new expensive electronics: I want them to work. I’m picky like that. Also, it may be spring, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. If it’s too cold to sit outside at my favorite neighborhood bar with a beer and some tater tots, it’s not spring. I don’t care what the calendar or the sniffles of my beleagured allergy-prone friends say.
But, my friends, there are cures for these woes. Best Buy gave me a computer whose keys seem to all work, and the cold-weather blues can be beaten back with pastitsio, a hearty Greek mac and cheese full of eggplant and meat and feta. It’s an amazing hybrid of pasta with meat sauce and pasta with cream sauce—why should you have to pick just one kind of pasta sauce, when instead you can layer one over the other?
As an aside, I first tried pastitsio at the Greek Deli in DC. If you live in the area, do yourself a favor and get over there for lunch as fast as your legs can carry you. Don’t be scared of the line—it moves fast, and the food is worth every minute of the wait.
Adapted very slightly from Gourmet, via Cookstr
10 oz penne or other tubular pasta
For meat sauce:
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb lean ground lamb or beef
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 lb eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 (28- to 32-oz) can crushed tomatoes [I used about 15 oz of tomato sauce]
For cheese sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 garlic clove
1 whole clove
1/2 lb feta, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 large eggs
Heat olive oil over medium heat in heavy saute pan. Cook onion, stirring, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add meat and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring and breaking up lumps, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt, oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and pepper and sauté, stirring, 2 minutes.
Stir in eggplant and tomatoes and reduce heat. Gently simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is just tender, about 30-40 minutes. Remove lid and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.
While the meat sauce is simmering, cook pasta to just al dente, prepare cheese sauce, and preheat oven to 425°F.
To make cheese sauce, melt butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, then stir in flour and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Whisk in milk and add garlic clove and whole clove, then bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking, about 5 minutes. Remove garlic clove and whole clove. Add feta, salt, and pepper and cook, whisking vigorously, until cheese is well incorporated. Beat eggs in a large bowl and gradually add sauce to eggs, whisking.
Toss half of cooked pasta with lamb sauce and half with cheese sauce. Pour pasta with lamb sauce into a wide, shallow 3-quart baking dish, spreading evenly. Spoon pasta with cheese sauce on top, spreading evenly.
Bake, uncovered, until bubbling and top is golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.