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Food
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Kitchen Mailbox Countdown to Dinner Dining
Kitchen Mailbox: Cinnamon key to aromatic Greek casserole

Thursday, October 12, 2000

By Arlene Burnett, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

You're going to love today's recipe -- pastitsio. It's a Greek casserole dish with layers of pasta, ground beef (sometimes lamb), grated cheese, tomatoes or tomato sauce and cinnamon. Marcie Karvellis McGuire of Highland Park sent Kitchen Mailbox this outstanding dish. The aroma alone made us anxious for the first bite of this hearty casserole. It's a beautiful dish with a golden crust and a creamy filling rich with hints of wine and cinnamon.

McGuire's recipe is also featured in the "Heart of Pittsburgh" cookbook produced by Sacred Heart Elementary School. It was also selected as a feature in the February issue of Better Homes and Gardens Hometown Cooking magazine.

About cinnamon:

The Romans used cinnamon as a love potion and a perfume.

Cinnamon is from the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree. The bark is harvested during the rainy season because it's more pliable. When the bark dries, it curls into long quill-like sticks, which are then sold as cinnamon sticks or ground into powder.

There are two types of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon (light brown in color with mildly sweet flavor) and cassia cinnamon (dark, reddish brown, pungent with a bittersweet flavor). Cassia cinnamon (labeled simply as cinnamon) is what we use for cooking and baking.

Here's Marcie Karvellis McGuire's recipe, which was sent in for Michael Gross of Mt. Lebanon.

Pastitsio

Meat sauce:
3 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 pounds lean ground meat
2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup red wine
1 cinnamon stick

Pasta:
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound penne pasta
8 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 cups milk
4 eggs, beaten

Cream sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
6 eggs
1/2 pound grated Kefalotiri* or Romano cheese, divided

For the meat sauce, melt butter in a 10- to 12-inch skillet. Saute onion until lightly browned. Add meat and cook until brown, crumbling with a fork. Add remaining meat sauce ingredients to skillet; mix well. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cinnamon stick; let mixture cool.

To prepare pasta, place water and salt in large pot. Bring to a boil. Add the penne and cook until tender, approximately 10 minutes. Drain, rinse and place pasta in a large bowl. Add butter, milk and eggs. Gently toss to coat; set aside.

To prepare cream sauce, melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan.

Stir in flour until smooth. Gradually add milk, stirring until thickened.

Lower heat; add salt and peper. Remove from heat. Beat 6 eggs until light and fluffy. Slowly add hot cream sauce to eggs; stir thoroughly. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread 1/2 of the penne mixture over bottom of pan. Cover evenly with meat sauce. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese over meat sauce. Add remaining penne mixture, spreading evenly. Sprinkle another 1/3 of the cheese over top. Pour cream sauce evenly over entire casserole. Top with remaining cheese.

Bake until sauce sets, approximately 45 minutes. Cool slightly before cutting into squares.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Note: Kefalotiri can be found at Stamoolis Brothers in The Strip. This dish can be frozen: Cut into squares, wrap each square in plastic wrap, then foil and insert in a freezer bag.

Requests

Alyce Richardson of the Hill District is wondering if any of our readers has a recipe for chicken gumbo.

Joanne Caputo of Forest Hills would like the recipe for the original Devonshire sandwich.

Letter

I usually buy the Thursday edition of the P-G because of the Food section, and really enjoy its various sections and reviews. Since I buy the P-G for content, I don't expect to laugh---maybe chuckle, but not guffaw. How wrong I was.

Today's edition was different: Glancing at the front page of the Food section, I couldn't help but notice the tickler for Suzanne Martinson's review of IncrEdibles. Immediately I tore to E-6, read the article, and couldn't help but laugh out loud in my staid office environment. You see, I was at a local Giant Eagle about a week ago, perusing the frozen food section, when I spied a new product. I just HAD to take a look and was HORRIFIED when I saw IncrEdibles! UGH!

I'm sorry, but the only food I know that comes in push-up form is ice cream! So there I stood, staring into the glass-fronted case, saying '"Yuck, yuck, yuck" with my tongue sticking out. I know I made a spectacle, because my boyfriend joined me at the case to see what made me react and couldn't believe what HE saw, too!

As we hurriedly left the case, we could see other people wandering over to see what we saw ... like seeing a bad car accident on the Parkway East, Pittsburghers in any Giant Eagle love to rubberneck. I only wonder how many were sold.....(note: I didn't buy any, and share Ms. Martinson's zeal to do interventions whenever necessary!)

The last line was the clincher which brought my own experience to mind: "We don't eat things out of a toilet-paper roll."

BRAVO! Thanks for a great review!

J. Gorski,
North Huntingdon


If you want to answer a recipe request from a reader or are looking for a recipe yourself, please write to Kitchen Mailbox, c/o Arlene Burnett, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222, or e-mail to aburnett@post-gazette.com. Please include a name, neighborhood and a daytime phone number on all correspondence. All recipes are kitchen-tested by the Post-Gazette.



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