I know what’s happening right now. I have some Greek friends. They are looking at this picture and saying, “That’s not Pastitiso!” OK, I get that. It’s not traditional Pastitiso, but it works!
Pastitiso is a hearty, comforting, Greek dish which, I guess, could be considered a Greek version of lasagna. A thick meat and tomato sauce is layered with pasta, onions and a thick, butter and cheese filled cream sauce. It’s pretty good stuff, but not exactly something I add to our weekly menu often. It’s very rich, and the butter and cheese help load up the calories. My hips certainly can’t handle that often.
I ran across this version of Pastitiso in one of my Weight Watchers cookbooks. It looked simple enough (it is) and I liked that it bulked up the filling with spinach, used a lot less pasta AND the cream sauce was made with evaporated fat-free milk, with not a bit of butter involved. I was intrigued, so I figured it was worth a try.
I started by browning up just a half a pound of lean ground beef with some chopped onion and minced garlic. It looks like a lot of onion, but it cooks down nicely.
Once the meat was browned, I added some canned diced tomatoes, some frozen chopped spinach that I’d thawed and drained, some cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Don’t cringe at the cinnamon. It adds a nice warmth to the dish and works really well with the other flavors.
I let that cook for a minute and then stirred in just 1 1/2 cups of ziti that I’d cooked up as the meat was browning. Once it was all mixed together, I poured it into my baking dish.
Next came the cream sauce. This sauce isn’t rich and creamy like a Bechamel sauce or Alfredo, it’s more like a creamy binder for the dish. A traditional Pastitiso will have a much creamier sauce, thanks to loads of butter, cream and cheese. Since I wanted to cut calories, this was the way to do it.
I heated up a can of fat-free evaporated milk on the stove. Just as it was about to come to a boil, I beat in two eggs and two egg whites until it was nice and frothy.
Once the sauce was ready, I poured it over the top of the pasta dish. It started to soak in to some of the nooks and crannies, but still filled the dish right up to the top. Before I popped it in the oven, I sprinkled some crumbled Feta cheese over the top.
After about 40 minutes in the oven, my kitchen smelled wonderful, the kids were asking what smelled so good, and I pulled out this delicious looking dish from the oven.
Once we dug in, I knew we had a keeper. The cream sauce was light and wasn’t overpowering at all, but served as a nice change-up from the hearty beef, spinach and tomatoes. As far as casseroles go, it was also really pretty. There were so many colors going on in there!
We only finished half of the Pastitiso that night, but when I had some the next day for dinner before we ran out the door to a Brownie meeting, it tasted even better. Hang on to those leftovers!
I know it’s not traditional Pastitiso. There’s still a place in this world for the real thing, and I look forward to eating it again at some point. But, at under 300 calories a serving, I didn’t feel guilty at all about having this version for dinner two nights in one week.
LIGHTENED UP PASTITISO
Adapted from Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook
- 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (10 oz.) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1 (14 1/2 oz.) can diced tomatoes
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 cups cooked ziti
- 1 (12 oz.) can evaporated fat-free milk
- 2 large eggs
- 2 egg whites
- 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
- Heat the oven to 350*. Spray a 2 quart baking dish with nonstick spray.
- Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the pan with nonstick spray and add the beef, onions and minced garlic. Cook until the beef is cooked through and the onions have softened, about 5-8 minutes.
- Stir in the spinach, tomatoes, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Heat through.
- Stir in the cooked ziti and then transfer the mixture to your prepared baking dish.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the evaporated milk over medium heat until it starts to steam, but isn’t quite yet boiling. At this point, whisk in the eggs and egg whites until the mixture is frothy.
- Pour the cream mixture over the top of the pasta mixture in the dish. Be careful not to pour too fast, as the sauce will come right up to the top of the dish.
- Sprinkle the top of the casserole with the crumbled feta cheese, sprinkle on a little more pepper, and place the dish in the oven.
- Bake, at 350*, for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown.