Weekly Winner:  A Greek Take on Gooey Goodness

There is very little about Greek food that I don’t like.  Honestly, the only thing I can think of that is Greek that I don’t care for are stuffed grape leaves.  I usually adore the stuffing but find I’m just not a fan of the leaves themselves.  Everything else though? Sign me up!  In particular I love the Greek pasta pastitsio but find that it usually is made of ground lamb.  This is in no way a problem for me — my husband however?  That’s a different story.  He is not a fan of lamb.

I have had this recipe for Greek Baked Ziti in my archives for well over a year, and to my knowledge have never made it.  I’m not sure why.  It’s made with ground beef …and pasta …and cheese.  What was I waiting for?  Apparently I was waiting for this past Friday, when I had some time on my hands and was looking for a new take on our traditional Friday Pasta Dinner.  It was glorious!

I think what made this dish particularly yummy was that, while I’ve made hundreds of variations of bechamel sauce, I don’t think I’ve ever added Parmesan to it.  Well, that will definitely be changing!  It made for an even creamier and cheesier dish, which is always a good thing.  The recipe comes from Southern Living magazine.  I’m not sure what makes it Southern, but the oregano and cinnamon definitely give it a warm, Greek accent.  Opa!

Greek Baked Ziti

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

12 ounces ziti pasta

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef

2 (15-oz.) cans tomato sauce

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups milk

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable cooking spray

1 (8-oz.) package shredded mozzarella cheese

1/3 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs

Procedure:

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Cook pasta according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, sauté onion in hot oil in large skillet over medium-high heat 4 to 5 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Add beef; cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until crumbled and no longer pink. Drain mixture, and return to skillet.

3. Stir tomato sauce, next 4 ingredients, and 1 tsp. salt into meat mixture. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

4. Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour, and cook, whisking constantly, 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk. Increase heat to medium, and cook, whisking constantly, 5 to 7 minutes or until thickened and bubbly. Stir in Parmesan cheese, pepper, and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt. Add sauce to pasta, stirring to coat.

5. Transfer pasta mixture to a lightly greased (with cooking spray) 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Top with beef mixture, mozzarella cheese, and breadcrumbs.

6. Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes or until mixture is bubbly and cheese is melted. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

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