This recipe has been produced in partnership with Linda McCartney foods for Veganuary.
Pastitsio is a food that reminds me of my childhood; snaffled from piled-high buffet plates at various relatives’ houses following Greek Orthodox church services, usually a christening or a funeral. My aunties would usually make them; huge trays of something that was a cross between a lasagne and a macaroni cheese. Usually stuffed with ground meat and several kinds of cheese, it was a challenge to make one that was vegan but still authentic enough to not get myself excommunicated from my family! But here it is – and it’s an instant classic in my household already. Using Linda McCartney’s Vegemince, it’s super simple to make – and can be enjoyed straight from the fridge, so make a large batch and give yourself a few days off cooking. Who said Veganuary meant missing out?
Ingredients – serves 6 generously from 77p each. All prices quoted are based on Asda groceries and correct at time of writing.
For the bechemal:
50g flour, 2p (45p/1.5kg)
60ml cooking oil, 7p (olive is traditional, but I use sunflower), (£1.09/1l)
1 tbsp or 11g nutritional yeast, 28p (£3.15/125g) – not essential
Scant 1/2 tsp mustard, any kind, <1p (37p/180g)
400ml cashew milk or unsweetened soya milk, 22p (55p/1l unsweetened UHT soya milk)
100g vegan mozarella, 70p (£1.40/200g)
For the mince:
1 onion, 8p (60p/1kg)
2 large stalks of celery, 10p (50p/bunch)
1 medium carrot, 5p (44p/1kg)
4 fat cloves of garlic or 6 dinky ones, 12p (69p/3 bulbs)
2 tsp oil, 1p (£1.09/1l)
1/2 tsp cinnamon, <1p (75p/100g)
1 tsp mixed dried herbs, 1p (30p/18g)
A pinch of powdered clove or 2 whole cloves, 3p (88p/31g) – not essential
500g Linda McCartney Vegemince, £2.25 (£2.25/500g)
175ml red wine or strong black tea, 1p (39p/40 teabags)
125ml strong mushroom or vegetable stock or weak vegan gravy, 3p (39p/12 stock cubes)
500g passata, 33p (33p/500g)
1 tsp vinegar, 1p (29p/568ml)
1 tbsp sugar, 1p (65p/1kg)
Plus 300g tubular pasta – traditionally it’s bucatini but I used penne, and macaroni is also fine, 27p (45p/500g)
First peel and very finely chop your onion, and finely slice your celery. Grate your carrot, including the peels and the top, using the large holes on a box grater. Heat 2tbsp of oil on your largest hob ring in a very large nonstick pan, and add the veg. Turn the heat down to low – the large hob will still give off a generous amount of firepower – and add your cinnamon, herbs and clove. Season generously with salt and pepper, and cook gently for around 10 minutes, keeping them moving every now and then so they don’t stick and burn.
Add your mince, from frozen, and stir through the veg. Pour over your wine (or tea), passata, and stock. Stir in the vinegar and sugar. Bring to the boil, briefly, then reduce to a simmer, uncovered, for around 20 minutes.
While the sauce is cooking, make your bechemal. If you have a small bullet blender, this step is super easy. Just weigh the flour into the largest cup, and add the oil, mustard, sliced vegan mozzarella, nutritional yeast, a pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper, and two-thirds of the cashew milk. Blend for 60 seconds, or until smooth. It will look a little thin, but don’t worry, it thickens up when warmed, just like in the traditional method. Transfer it into a saucepan, on a low heat on your smallest hob ring, and stir intermittently to keep it smooth, adding the remaining cashew milk a little at a time. When it has thickened sufficiently that it thickly coats the back of your wooden spoon, remove from the heat. It will continue to firm up – don’t be alarmed by this – but if it starts to set, loosen it with a little of the boiling pasta water from the next step.
Bring a large, wide pan of generously salted water to the boil, and add your pasta. Slightly undercook it, so it is al dente, as it will continue to cook in the oven. Around 6-7 minutes is fine for most dried pastas, but check the packet instructions and simply knock 1-2 minutes off the cooking time. When the pasta goes into the pot, turn your oven on to 180C and lightly grease your dish.
Drain the pasta and return it to the pan. Add a ladle of the bechemal and shake through gently to lightly coat the pasta.
Transfer half of the pasta to the bottom of the dish. If you want to be fastidious about it, you can try to make sure the pasta is all aligned neatly so when it is cut through it looks spectacularly neat and really quite awesome, but Greek and Cypriot cooking is more of a practical skill than a beauty pageant, so you can just pop it in however you like.
Stir a ladle of bechemal into the mince and sauce, then spread it evenly over the pasta. Layer the remaining pasta on top, then pour over the remaining bechemal. You can top this with extra cheese if you like, but it’s not essential.
Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes, then remove and allow to cool to room temperature before enjoying. Can be stored in the fridge for three days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Delicious enjoyed fridge-cold, room temperature (as is traditional), or piping hot.
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