Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Cinnamon. In my tomato sauce. There, I said it, and you can all just eat my ass ok? I mean, why do people get so offended by this combination? You put cinnamon in all sorts of sweet stuff to deepen the taste, why not savory? People in the U.S. have this hangup that cinnamon really only belongs in a dessert or sweet breakfast item, or their lattes. It's a shame, because this spice really comes through very well in savory settings, especially related to beef or lamb.

Now, back to that tomato sauce thing. The Greek version of the Italian lasagna is called pasticcio, and there are as many ways to make it as there are ways to spell it. At it's most basic it is a layered casserole of spiced beef, noodles, and a white custard sauce. Add a layer of eggplant and it becomes mousakka, add portabella mushrooms and YiaYia's will yell at you for "messing with tradition" and then gobble it up when you're in the bathroom crying, wondering where you hid that emergency bump.

To make the spiced meat layer, you basically create a quick tomato sauce with onions and garlic, add cinnamon, and let the meat soak it up on a low simmer. It's delicious and red and comforting. As for the whole eggplant thing, I have to tell you a secret...I hate globe eggplant. The texture, the taste or lack thereof, the smell, it just doesn't do it for me. However, Japanese eggplant is a gift from the foodie gods, a concentration of all the good qualities of the globe variety and just overall a winner. The next time I attempt this recipe I will use the foreign variety and report the inevitable success.

This recipe is based on my great-grandmother's version.


2 lbs lean ground beef or lamb, or mix of both
16 oz skinned crushed tomatos
2 med onions chopped fine
3 cloves garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp each salt and pepper
1 lb smooth cut ziti noodles
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
6 tbsp butter
6 tbsp flour
3 cups milk
3 eggs room temperature
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Saute onions in olive oil in a large skillet until soft, about 5 minutes do not brown. Add beef and cook until brown and crumbly, drain off excess grease. Add garlic and cook briefly, then add tomatos, salt, pepper and cinnamon. Simmer 30 minutes, meat should look very wet, sort of like sloppy joe consistancy.

Cook ziti until softened, but still underdone, usually 3 minutes less than al dente time on the box. Drain and rinse with cold water, set aside.

Melt butter in medium sauce pan and whisk in flour to form a loose paste. Cook over med-low heat for 5 minutes, whisking constantly. Add milk slowly and whisk vigorously to undo any lumps that form. Continue whisking until sauce thickens (usually 10 minutes), do not raise heat. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper and nutmeg, stir well.

Whisk eggs in a seperate bowl, add a few spoons of the hot sauce slowly, whisking constantly, don't curdle the eggs! Add the egg mixture into the rest of the sauce slowly, whisking constantly until thoroughly combined. Make sure you have no lumps of egg in there.

Scatter half of the pasta on the bottom of a greased 9x13x3 pan. Spread all of the meat mixture on top of this, then top that with the remaining pasta. Sprinkle with half of the parmesan, then pour the custard sauce over everything.
Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top, dust with a little nutmeg if you want, and put into a 350F oven for 45 min to an hour until the sauce in set and nothing jiggles too much.

Let it cool for at least 1/2 hour before attempting to cut and serve, you could do it sooner of course, but it will fall apart and look rather similar to what you threw up last weekend after that cheeseburger and beer binge. Serve with a nice healthy salad to offset the guilt you will feel while gobbling this down.

Note: this freezes very well, you could make it in those disposable aluminum pans and let it cool completely, wrap the hell out of it with tin foil, and freeze up to 6 months. Or you could refrigerate it overnight and cut into pieces, put onto cookie sheet, freeze, then wrap each piece individually with plastic wrap and tin foil, then put in freezer bag.

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