Pastitsio is based on a very similar concept as lasagne. However, it only consists of three layers: the pasta, a bolognese sauce and then a creamy béchamel to top it all up. The pasta used traditionally, is a type of thick long hollow macaroni, resembling somewhat giant spaghetti. Alternatively, it can be made with any other pasta, although long, thick pasta is best, as it holds together better through the cooking process and when served.
Pastitsio is one of our favourite family recipes, definitely the favourite of my son Luca. This is why I have perfected it over the years, trying different ingredients and methods.
In this plant based version, I have used a mixture of fresh veggies, beluga lentils and soy mince for the sauce, creating a combination which is highly nutritious, richly flavoursome, and with a wonderful texture. Fantastic for special occasions and for feeding a crowd. It can be placed in the freezer before baking and saved for another moment in time.
Beluga Lentil Pastitsio
For the bolognese sauce:
250g dried beluga lentils, preferably soaked overnight (or one tin, drained and rinsed)
125g soy mince
2tsp veggie stock powder
A little vegetable broth
2-3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 leeks, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2tsp dried oregano
1/4 of a cup dry white wine
5 tomatoes, finely chopped
2tbsp tomato paste
1 340g jar of tomato passata
1tsp coconut sugar
2tbsp veggie stock powder
1tsp smoked paprika
A pinch of cumin
2tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
For the béchamel sauce:
8 heaped tbsp vegan butter (use non-hydrogenated or homemade)
8 heaped tbsp white Spelt flour
1lt unsweetened soy milk, warmed
1tsp veggie stock powder
1/4tsp white pepper
1tbsp nutritional yeast
To put together:
1 500g packet of long pasta, preferably thick spaghetti
A few thin tomato slices for decoration
1tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
🍅 To prepare the lentils, drain and rinse them and place them in a pan. Cover them with water and boil them until tender, but not falling apart, about half an hour. When they are cooked, drain and rinse them once more and set them aside.
🍅 For the soy mince, place it in a pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Add the veggie stock powder and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
🍅 In a wide and fairly deep pan, over medium heat, warm the vegetable broth, then add the shallots and the leeks. Cover, reduce the heat to low and sauté for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and add the garlic and the oregano. Continue to cook for a couple more minutes. Increase the heat to medium and pour in the wine. Let it cook until most of it has evaporated.
🍅 Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes until they begin to break down. Then add the tomato paste, the passata, the sugar, the veggie stock powder, the paprika, the cinnamon, the cumin and the salt. Keep stirring for another 5 minutes. Measure 2 cups from the lentils and stir them in. Save the rest for another meal. Add the soy mince and mix. Finally, take off the heat and mix in the parsley.
🍅 For the béchamel, first make a roux. Melt the butter in a medium deep pan. Add the flour and cook over very low heat for a couple of minutes. Gradually pour in the warmed milk and use a whisk to incorporate with the butter and flour, making sure no lumps remain. Continue whisking over low-medium heat, until the béchamel begins to thicken. Add the nutmeg, the vegetable stock powder, the salt, the pepper and the nutritional yeast and mix. When it resembles a thick custard, it’s ready. Set aside.
🍅 Boil the pasta in salted water according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water, to stop the cooking process. Place the pasta in a deep ovenproof dish and drizzle some olive oil, to prevent from sticking. Sprinkle some parsley over the top and set aside.
🍅 Preheat the oven at 200C.
🍅 To put together, spoon the bolognese over the pasta. If your béchamel has thickened too much, whisk in a little hot water, then spoon it over the bolognese. With a fork, pinch through the 3 layers here and there, in order to get some of the béchamel move through to the layers underneath. Lay the tomato slices on the surface and add some freshly ground black pepper. Put in the oven for 1 hour.
🍅 Let The pastitsio cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.
Black beluga lentils earned their name because of their resemblance to caviar. They offer an abundance of protein, fibre and iron, along with plenty of other nutrients and cancer fighting properties.