Yiayia’s Pastitsio

Food in our family means celebration; it means coming together as a family and enjoying each other’s company.

Leah says…

Growing up in a big Greek family (and I mean ones like the movies – we seriously do exist!), I have been around food forever. Food in our family means celebration; it means coming together as a family and enjoying each other’s company. Even to this day, our immediate family has dinner together at one of our homes at least four times a week (crazy, I know, but I absolutely love it). I’ve always loved and respected Greek culture when it comes to food because it’s simple, fresh, flavoursome and feels like “home” to me.

Our family has always been about big events, big celebrations and lots of food being thrown around, but what’s a big family gathering without competition, right? Haha! Our big events consist of all the yiayias (grandmas) making the most special dishes, and us grandkids just knowing instantly which yiayia made it! They’re all incredible cooks and give their all to cooking, but each has their little individual love touch that makes their meal theirs.

I’m extremely biased, and think my yiayia’s pastitsio and her spanakopita (and literally everything she makes) are the bee’s knees. I’d call myself a pastitsio connoisseur at this point! And I want you to be able to taste the legendary recipe for yourself – with your family and friends.

I love food, cooking and creating, but I love bringing people together through food even more. When you make this recipe, you need to promise me that you’ll have your favourite people around, tell them you’re about to blow their minds with a delicious, treasured dish, and enjoy that sense of fun and family.



Yiayia’s Pastitsio

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for cooking
500g lean beef mince
¼ cup red wine
1 onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped
2 cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
400g tin crushed tomatoes
½ cup beef stock, as needed
250g penne pasta
80g grated parmesan cheese

Béchamel Sauce

185g butter
¾ cup plain flour
3 cups warm milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
80g grated parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

TIP For a vegetarian dish, omit the beef mince and add some extra vegetables, such as zucchini or eggplant.


Heat a splash of olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook until browned and the excess liquid has evaporated. Add the wine, onion, garlic, oregano, rosemary, cloves and allspice and cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, bay leaf, cinnamon stick and crushed tomatoes. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour, adding the stock if the mixture is drying out. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

While the meat is cooking, bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, then transfer to a bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Brush a large ovenproof dish with oil.

To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir for 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. Slowly add the milk, stirring until the mixture is smooth and thick. Cover and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the eggs, parmesan and nutmeg.

Tip the pasta into the oiled dish and sprinkle with the parmesan. Pour the meat sauce over the top, followed by the béchamel. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.