Sunday, September 12, 2010

Martha Stewart Challeng #1 - Pastitsio

This week, I decided to do a Martha Stewart Challenge of my own... I decided to open to a random page in the Martha Stewart Cookbook and choose one recipe that I hadn't had before.  The choices were : Linguine with two-olive tapenade, oyster mushroom and chard ravioli, and pastitsio.  Of the three of them, pastitsio seemed like the best option.  I'd heard of pastitsio before, but I'd never had it and I wasn't quite sure what it was.  It turned out pretty well, just like Martha would have liked, I think. :)

Here goes!

Martha Stewart's Pastitsio

For the Meat Sauce

* 2 tablespoons EVOO
* 2 white onions, diced
* 2 lbs ground lamb
* 2 tsp coarse salt
* 2 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
* 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
* 1/2 cup red wine
* 1 (6oz) can of tomato paste
* 2 bay leaves

For the Bechamel Sauce

* 6 tbs unsalted butter
* 9 tbs all-purpose flour
* 2 tsp baking powder
* 3 cups milk
* 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
* 2 tsp coarse salt
* 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
* 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
* pinch ground nutmeg

To assemble

* 1 pound elbow macaroni

So I wasn't too sure about how much I would like this... the cinnamon and nutmeg were kinda throwing me off... I love cinnamon and nutmeg, but I wasn't sure about ground lamb with it.... but I figured that I committed to the idea, so I was going to go through with it!  Also, I didn't look at the recipe well enough, so I only bought 1 pound of ground lamb, so I cut this recipe in half... I didn't worry too much about it because this original recipe serves 10-12, so if it didn't turn out well, I wouldn't be stuck with a ton of it!  Luckily, that wasn't a problem.

Basically, you need to make 2 different sauces for the dish.  There's a meat sauce and a bechamel sauce.   For the meat sauce, you heat the oil in a saucepan and add in the onions.  You have to cook the onions until they are pretty soft.  Like I've said before, Curt doesn't really like onions if he can feel the texture, so I made sure to cook them until they were pretty soft.  Then I added in the ground lamb, salt, cinnamon, pepper, and nutmeg.  

I waited a while until the ground lamb was pretty much cooked all the way through.  Then I added in the red wine.  Curt and I had opened a bottle of Shiraz the night before, so that was perfect for this dish.  I was supposed to wait until the red wine had evaporated, but I didn't remember that part... I immediately added in tomato paste, bay leaves, and the water.  Then covered and simmerred for 30 minutes, while I was preparing the bechamel sauce.  I also had the elbow macaroni cooking too, so I could have everything ready to go after the bechamel sauce was ready.

I was a bit nervous about the bechamel sauce because I hadn't really made one before and I tend to burn white sauces.  It turned out really well though!  First, I melted the butter in a pan over medium heat.  Once the butter was melted, I added in the flour and baking powder.  You have to add it in slowly and make sure you whisk it all together continuously or else it will burn and taste gross!  This time, though, the sauce turned out really well!  

Once the butter and flour were well combined, you have to "cook" the flour/butter mixture... you have to cook it  a bit so that it doesn't taste too much like raw flour.  After a minute or so, you slowly pour in the milk while whisking.  I started getting nervous because the sauce started clumping a little bit, but just keep pouring in all the milk and keep stirring and it all works out and turns into a nice smooth sauce.   Keep stirring the sauce until it thickens a bit and then remove it from heat, and add in the Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper.  Whisk it all together until you have a smooth, semi thick sauce.  Then remove it from heat. The sauce tasted really yummy... I'm definitely going to have to make it again and use it in other dishes.

By now, you should have everything all set for the dish... you should have the lamb red wine sauce and the creamy bechamel sauce!  You'll need to preheat the oven to 375 and butter a casserole dish.

Take this time to add the pasta to the meat sauce.  I don't think I mentioned it before, but you should have cooked the pasta al dente... so cook it before it is completely finished because it will continue cooking in the oven.  Mix the pasta and meat sauce together until it is well combined.

At this point, the dish reminded me of a fancy sort of hamburger helper (don't tell Martha I said that!).  It smelled really good, though! 

Once the pasta/meat sauce was in the casserole dish, I poured the bechamel sauce over the top.  Then I tapped the dish a little bit to make sure it was all evenly distributed. 

Then, once the oven was to temperature, I threw the dish in and waited.  The dish needed to cook for 45 minutes, so I made a quick trip to the gym (I knew I was going to have to work off the calories in this dish!).  By the time I came home, it was time to take out the pastitsio.  When I walked into the house, I was hit by the smell of nutmeg, lamb, and cheese.... it was heavenly!  I opened the oven and this is what I found!

The pastitsio was perfectly browned on the top and smelled delicious.  You have to let it sit and rest for 10 minutes... I tried to let it rest, but Curt was getting antsy, so I scooped out a decent sized serving, and onto a plate it went.   Again, I was somewhat nervous about the cinnamon and nutmeg with the lamb, but it turned out really well.  It had a nice flavor and the bechamel sauce on top was a little bit crunchy, which I think added a nice texture to the dish.

After Curt had 1 bite, he added a LOT more to his plate... he told me again, "This is one of the best meals I've ever had." So I know that he really did like it. 

And... this is how much he had for lunch the next day.  Overall, I'd say my first Martha Stewart Challenge went pretty well!  I don't know that this would be one of my all time favorite dishes, but it was pretty good and it was something that I don't think I ever would have made otherwise.  Curt liked it so much though, that I think I'll have to make it a few more times :)