Since ancient times, Italians and Greeks have been at odds with one another.
Call it a (usually) friendly rivalry.
Empires, philosophers, music, coastlines. Both civilizations claim the better of the two.
And then there is the cuisine. Here in Manchester, where thousands of people with Greek ancestry live, the food contest tilts Hellenic.
We have our Greek cheese, Greek salad, Greek olives. And most of the pizza joints in town are really Gr-izza joints.
But Italians still lay claim to lasagna. Meat-laden tomato sauce, gooey mozzarella, a hefty layer of ricotta cheese and pasta the size of grocery-store receipts. It’s quintessential Italian; the best of the Mediterranean ...
Until you taste pastichio.
“It’s different from the lasagna, but it’s the same idea how you layer the pasta, the meat. But they have more sauce,” said Poppy Tsoutsas, the retired owner of the Lantern restaurant at the Massabesic Traffic Circle. “They call it Greek lasagna because they can’t pronounce pastichio.”
Tsoutsas is a pastichio gourmet. She and her friends at St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral have been preparing newspaper-sized trays of the stuff — the last count was 85 — for Glendi, which starts Friday. It’s a special dish.
“You don’t make this too often. This is a lot of work,” she said. “And there’s lots of pans to clean up after.”
Pastichio noodles are about the size of hollowed-out coaxial cable. The meat mixture uses some tomato sauce, but the sauce gets absorbed and poses little danger to your clean shirt.
The standout part is the fluffy, egg-enhanced bechamel sauce that tops it off.
The final dish has hints of the spices we New Englanders associate with pumpkin pie, along with savory tastes of parsley, onion and garlic.
Want to make your own? You’ll have to find a Greek or specialty store for the pastichio noodles and Kefalotiri cheese.
And for inspiration, head to Glendi next weekend and enjoy a piece of pastichio heaven.
The steps she takes
Here’s a rough outline of the process Tsoutsas uses for her Glendi-sized recipe, which starts with 180 pounds of hamburg, 65 dozen eggs, 53 pounds of butter.
(We won’t even try to downsize the proportions. There are numerous recipes available online.)
Brown hamburg and a chopped onion along with garlic, oregano, fresh parsley, salt and pepper. Some recipes call for pinches of cinnamon and allspice, but Tsoutsas uses only nutmeg. (“Simple is better,” she said.) Add tomato sauce and a little butter and simmer for 35 minutes, reducing the liquid.
Boil pastichio noodles until al dente. Toss them with butter, eggs and shredded Kefalotiri and/or Parmesan.
Make a bechamel sauce. Then whisk in more eggs and Parmesan. Keep the mixture warm.
Place half the pasta in the bottom of a lasagna finfinishedbaking dish. Next goes all the meat sauce. Followed by another layer of pasta. Top it with the bechamel-egg sauce. Sprinkle top with nutmeg or paprika.
Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover and bake for about 40 minutes, until top is golden brown.