January 20, 2010

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: An unusual take on a baked pasta casserole, sort of a Greek baked ziti. This can be made in one big family style casserole, or two smaller sizes. Take one to a friend and have one for dinner. - TheRunawaySpoonTheRunawaySpoon

Food52 Review: We recently made a quadruple batch of this recipe (last year's Baked Pasta runner-up) for a dinner party and were reminded just how much we love it. We promptly decided it deserved a spot in the second food52 cookbook. Here are our original notes: This is shepherd's pie meets moussaka -- a lamb ragout spiced with cinnamon, oregano, sumac and mint is blended with penne and feta and then topped with a cayenne-scented bechamel. After baking in the oven -- we turned up the heat to 450 degrees for the final 10 minutes -- it emerges crisp on the perimeter with a thick toasted bechamel cap. A few tips: remember to salt the pasta water and you should undercook the pasta because it will continue cooking in the later baking stage. And when you add the tomato paste to the lamb, let it toast a bit before adding the water. - A&MThe Editors

Serves: 8
Prep time: 25 min
Cook time: 1 hrs 20 min


For the pasta and meat

  • 1 pound dried penne or ziti pasta
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 pounds ground lamb
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 16 ounces can tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint (optional)
  • 2 cups water
  • 6 ounces crumbled feta

For the cheese sauce

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
In This Recipe


  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and reserve. Stir in the butter to prevent sticking.
  2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the lamb until no longer pink, breaking it into pieces, about 8 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a colander and shake well to drain the fat. Return the lamb to the pan, add the wine and cook over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the tomato paste, cinnamon, oregano, (sumac and mint if using) and 2 cups of water. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
  4. For the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until incorporated, about 30 seconds. In a slow steady stream, whisk in the milk until there are no lumps. Cook, whisking often, until the mixture is thick and bubbly and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 - 7 minutes. Stir in the cayenne and the Parmesan.
  5. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Add the pasta to the lamb mixture and stir to combine. Toss in the feta and combine. Spoon the mixture into a greased 9 x13 inch baking dish. Spread the cheese sauce over the pasta mixture, smoothing the top with a spoon. Bake until browned in spots, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven then allow to cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

More Great Recipes:
Pasta|Greek|Milk/Cream|Oregano|Mint|Lamb|Serves a Crowd|Entree

Reviews (59) Questions (5)

59 Reviews

Linguist September 30, 2018
The recipe here calls for "16 ounces can tomato paste". This seemed pretty over the top ... and when I looked for the recipe on other sites, I found it actually called for "one 6 ounce can tomato paste", which makes sense.
Iris D. October 1, 2018
Greek-American here! 6 ounce can of tomato paste...Add slowly. And taste. As my mother would say, "You can add more but you can't subtract!" I add about a 1/2 cup of red wine to the meat mixture.
Darian August 24, 2018
I made this last night with only one change - I used 1 pound of ground lamb instead of 2. It was absolutely delicious and a big hit with the whole family! Fed 4 generously with enough leftovers for 2, so total of 6 full portions.
drose May 4, 2017
So I've made and combined all the ingredients and put it into a Pyrex dish intending to bake it but it's way too much for a couple of people and I was thinking about freezing some of it. Should I freeze the uncooked portion or should I cook the whole thing and then freeze the leftovers?
Renee B. May 5, 2017
I freeze the leftovers every time I make it. It is a BIG batch.
Iris D. October 1, 2018
I cook the whole thing then freeze individual portions. Wrap well in Saran Wrap, then wrap in foil and place in a ziplock bag. This dish is best served after a month or so. Longer freezing times are not advised. <br />
Renee B. February 16, 2016
Absolutely delicious! I didn't have any sumac so googled for a substitute and learned that lemon zest is often used. For any recipe that calls for fresh lemon juice I always zest it first and freeze the zest. It worked beautifully in this delicious recipe. A teaspoon of zest added just the right amount of sour. I didn't use mint. I added just a tad more cayenne to the cheese sauce. This will be in our regular rotation.
andrea P. January 11, 2016
Made two of them for a dinner party. Everyone loved it. Very hearty and satisfying on a cold winter night. I used beef and cinnamon plus fresh mint and oregano. It was quite good.
Kevin F. August 31, 2014
Made last night, and despite not being able to find sumac anywhere in my city, it turned out very well. A huge hit with the family as the dish is such a comfort food. Will order sumac online for the next time I make this, as I am intrigued to see the influence it has in this dish.
Ellie July 7, 2014
Made this today as a surprise to my boyfriend. SO GOOD! I remember as a child eating Pastitsio that my yiayia made and so happy I finally made it!! Delicious! The only thing I would suggest: Make sure to undercook your noodles as they will continue cooking in the oven. Other then that tiny adjustment, totally recommend!
Ellie July 7, 2014
Oops I forgot to add: I used ground meat instead of lamb
dymnyno September 11, 2013
Not unusual, actually. I had a very similar dish at a restaurant on the island of Kefalounia about 4 years ago, where the cuisine has a distinct Italian influence, as does much of Greece.I make this often and I love that it is one of those "even better the next day" kind of recipes.
margae September 11, 2013
Absolutely delicious. Almost like Mousaka but without the eggplant obviously. I've been looking for ways to use my sumac so this was a great and we LOVE lamb. The cheese sauce/bechmel was perfect.
pow August 13, 2013
yum! lamb! can't wait to try it!
za'atar June 9, 2013
I made this because I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand, and I'm glad I did. This was a nice change of pace from the typical lasagna and comes together quick enough for a weeknight meal. I added some extra eggplant and tomatoes that I had lying around. Yummy!
mle18 February 14, 2013
Nom, Nom, Nom! The next time I want to make this on a weeknight, I will make the meat sauce a day ahead. But relatively easy for such a tasty and flavorful dish!<br />
Patricia L. December 31, 2012
Really delicious dish. I halved the recipe as there are just 3 of us and it was fine. New Seasons was out of ground sumac so I googled it and found it is a "tangy, tart and lemony" flavor. I substituted 1/4 tsp of lemon zest - maybe not enough to make a difference, but it smelled great going into the pan. Great dish and will recommend to friends.
Phoov July 11, 2012
I just made this, last night. Put it into a large casserole that I froze, and small one that we ate. Used half ground lamb half ground steak...lamb @ $11.99/lb was a little steep. Trying to save a wee bit. Turned out great, though! And I used fresh oregano and fresh mint as I have an extensive herb garden and go fresh while the getting is good in summertime. Could not find sumac. Even tried to buy it at Earth Fare. Good solid recipe that obviously lends itself to adjustments well.
Spencer March 30, 2012
I made this earlier this week. It was kind of a production but WELL worth it. Served it to a bunch of friends and they all loved it. Its a good sign when there are very few leftovers.
Shalini October 17, 2011
I made another version of this for the first time a few weeks ago, from the Martha Stewart Living New Classics cookbook. It was fantastic, but this version looks even better because of the Sumac and dried mint. I'll be trying this version next!
Shalini October 17, 2011
I made another version of this for the first time a few weeks ago, from the Martha Stewart Living New Classics cookbook. It was fantastic, but this version looks even better because of the Sumac and dried mint. I'll be trying this version next!
Shalini October 17, 2011
I made another version of this for the first time a few weeks ago, from the Martha Stewart Living New Classics cookbook. It was fantastic, but this version looks even better because of the Sumac and dried mint. I'll be trying this version next!
AntoniaJames May 20, 2011
Made this last night using beef instead of lamb, and fresh mint, not dried. Outstanding! And so easy, too. ;o)
Pat E. April 25, 2011
I think this will be a wonderful way to use some lamb leftover from Easter...a small dice ought to work as well as ground lamb, eh?
healthierkitchen April 6, 2011
I made this last month for a large party (double recipe) and it was fantastic. It's funny that flawlessmom thought it tastes a little Moroccan - I actually added a couple of pinches of raz al hanout to the spice mix! The instructions were easy to follow and the end product both looked and tasted delicious. Added bonus was how delicious leftovers were.
FlawlessMom March 14, 2011
THIS WAS SO GOOD! The flavors taste more Moroccan than Greek to me. It was even better the second day. I was so happy for leftovers!! Thank you for this recipe and for the suggestion of turning up the heat for the last 10 to 15 minutes. It looked exactly like the picture!
KOKelley February 2, 2011
This was dinner tonight and was fantastic! I've never cooked with Sumac but now I have a little baggie of it in my pantry to inspire me to find more recipes that call for it! The spices were subtle but delicious - my "I hate veggies" husband loved it (I made sure to throw in the onions while he was absent and they went undetected). I will absolutely make this again! Thanks, RunawaySpoon!
melissav January 25, 2011
This was fantastic. I made everything but the cheese sauce on Sunday, popped it in the fridge, and when I came home from work on Monday, I whipped up the sauce and popped it in the oven. Made for a delicious and easy Monday night dinner (and lunch today)!
Sarasita January 23, 2011
Great dish. My husband loves baked ziti, and when I made this he went crazy for the new twist of Greek flavors (compared to the traditional Italian). He said I could "make it for him any time." :)
Kayb January 17, 2011
Finally made this -- superb! I acquired sumac, had mint; I don't know that I can identify either flavor, but it does have a note in there that my traditional lamb ragu I used for moussaka doesn't have. I forgot the feta, so I sprinkled it over each serving, and that worked just fine. Good, good stuff!
dymnyno January 14, 2011
Congratulations! I brought a recipe almost exactly like this back from Kefalonia, Greece a couple of months ago. My spices are thyme and oregano and nutmeg, but the rest of the ingredients are the same. I didn't know the name...just called it lamb and pasta casserole.
Iris D. October 1, 2018
Add cinnamon and a dash of cloves! <br /><br />
phyllis January 12, 2011
I cooked this when it was first posted and it was delicious. Congratulations!!! Time to cook it again, especially with these cold and snowy NYC days.
Kitchen B. January 12, 2011
You're on a roll. Congratulations Runaway spoon
fiveandspice January 12, 2011
Oh man, this looks wonderful! Perfect for the cold snowy weather we're having. Can't wait to try it. Congrats!
MrsWheelbarrow January 12, 2011
WooHoo! I can't wait to make this. Congratulations!
VanessaS January 12, 2011
Congratulations! I've been wanting to try this, it looks great!
hardlikearmour January 12, 2011
This sounds absolutely amazing! Congrats!
Author Comment
TheRunawaySpoon January 12, 2011
Hey, what a surprise on the WIldcard win! Thanks for all the congratulations!
lapadia January 12, 2011
Congratulations! Wow...I was just looking at a recipe for this in an old cookbook I am thrilled your recipe will be in Food52's book 2!
onetribegourmet January 12, 2011
Simply Gorgeous!!! Congrats! :)
lastnightsdinner January 12, 2011
Congrats on your Wildcard win! This has been on my "must try" list since last year, and I think it's high time to get on it!
Bevi January 12, 2011
This is just beautiful! Congrats!
Kayb January 12, 2011
'Grats on the Wildcard! I'm thinking I have to try this, and soon -- was thinking about lasagna over the weekend, but this may edge it out. What flavor does sumac add? I've never cooked with it, although a shop nearby has it available. And are it and the mint a "couple"? -- i.e., if I omit one, should I omit the other?
Author Comment
TheRunawaySpoon January 12, 2011
Sumac lends a lovely bright tang, and a real meditteranean feel, but I mark it as optional because I know it can be hard to come by, though Penzey's sells it. You'll fin lots of uses for it - sprinkled on hummus being the first, though it will add to any middle eastern dish. And don't leave out the mint if you don't have sumac, more flavor the better!
Table9 January 12, 2011
Oh my gosh! This looks divine! Congrats on the win.
maryvelasquez January 12, 2011
Yay! This is such an iconic food52 dish, and so delicious. So happy to see it take the wild card slot this week.
drbabs January 12, 2011
Congratulations on the Wildcard win!!
Mama D. February 1, 2010
This sounded a little involved but worked up really well without a huge production (absent the sumac). I made one for dinner that night and froze the other half, as suggested. It served a crowd, even halved, including adults and little kids. All loved it on a cold winter night!
lmacfgreen January 31, 2010
Wow! What a wonderful "do-ahead" dish for a winter evening. Everyone loved it....and the (very few leftover) were terrific.
mrs. J. January 31, 2010
this looks so yummy, i can't wait to try it!
phyllis January 30, 2010
I'd like to vote for both pasta dishes. They both sound amazing. I voted for this one because it's a little different. If I hadn't just finished dinner, I would cook this tonight. Thanks!!
Kayb January 30, 2010
Tough call, but I had to go with this one, partly because I can't get my head around the concept that crepes=pasta in that gorgeous manicotti recipe (which made me drool) but because I, too, think lamb ragu is to die for.
raganmagness January 30, 2010
This is really, really good and everyone in the family raved!!! Might become one of our staples. I want to make extra so I can give some away too.
kapnic January 29, 2010
made this for dinner tonight, it was sooo good, even my five year old loved it.
eatboutique January 28, 2010
I want this now, thank you. Great recipe.
Allison C. January 28, 2010
Love it. I grew up eating my yiayia's (grandma's) pastitsio, and I'm thrilled to see this in the finals. You got my vote for sure. Good luck and "yiasou!"
Sodium G. January 28, 2010
I think lamb ragu has such a rich flavor. This looks delicious.
Jennifer P. January 28, 2010
My husband used to live in Astoria, Queens and ate this dish often (big Greek community). I will have to surprise him with this one night soon.