Neighborhood Eats goes Greek

September 11, 2010 8:54:20 PM PDT
Handshakes abound at this corner restaurant in Highland Park.

"I come primarily because the owner is very hospitable big smile and a handshake," said a customer.

"How is it my friend?"

Tassos Stefanopoulous opened Pithari Taverna 4 years ago with the hopes that his customers would feel like relatives.

"Our customers are like family here. Makes it more familiar you know."

Tassos had already been a part of the community with his market that sells imported Greek food. His restaurant was a natural extension.

"Very nice town very nice people give something in return."

What they get are dishes that include Greek salad, souvlaki, pita, grilled branzino, and a decadent pastitsio.

"It is phenomenal better than any lasagna I've ever had."

In essence, it is the Greek version of lasagna.

The dish starts with three kinds of meat: lamb, pork, and beef. Chef Pavlos Xenopoulous then browns the meat with onions, a splash of ouzo, white wine.

Tomato paste sauce and herbs. He mixes thick pasta with eggs, cheese, and béchamel.

"We put a little béchamel with eggs and cheese so we can keep it steady," comments the chef.

And the layering begins. Do not forget the super thick layer of béchamel, and a little more cheese. It is baked and the result is as rich a meal unto itself. But save room.

"We always finish up with Baklakava. It's the most it's heavenly. It is eden."

RECIPE FOR PASTITSIO:

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of (thick) No. 2 Greek pasta (a wide spaghetti noodle with a hole going through it) (can cook ahead)
  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1/2 pound of ground pork
  • 1/2 pound of ground lamb
  • 2 onions (chopped)
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 5 ounces of "kefalograviera" cheese (grated)
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 1 shot of "ouzo"
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 cans of tomato puree

    Bouquet:
  • 2 basil leaves
  • 2 mint leaves
  • 2 thyme leaves
  • 2 rosemary leaves
    (all tied together)

    Béchamel:
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 quart milk, warmed
  • 8 egg yolks, beaten lightly
  • A pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • Pinch sugar

    Directions:
    Preheat oven to 350.

    To make béchamel:
    Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Using a whisk, add flour, whisking continuously to make roux. Allow the flour/butter mixture to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown. Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens but does not boil. Remove from heat and stir in beaten egg yolks. Add pinch of nutmeg. If sauce still needs to thicken, return to heat and cook over very low heat while continuing to stir. It's done when the sauce is slightly thicker than gravy.

    For the meat filling:
    In large saucepan, sauté onions in oil until golden. add garlic and meat. Sauté until brown. Add ouzo and wine, tomato puree, and bouquet of herbs, salt and pepper and simmer for another 5 minutes.

    Meanwhile in large bowl, mix cooked pasta with 1/2 amount of cheese, and béchamel. Use half of contents of this bowl to layer in large baking pan (spray pan with pam first). Then top with browned meat. Then over the meat layer add another layer of pasta. Then a thick layer of remaining béchamel and on top of the béchamel, add the remainder of the cheese. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Serve with additional tomato sauce.


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