I love all things pasta. I could probably eat it every day and never get tired of it! But I rarely make cheesy pastas because cheesy pasta is just code for fatty pasta (as is creamy, or alfredo!). So this recipe for lighter cheesy pastitsio instantly piqued my interested. I had never heard of pastitsio, but it had cheese and pasta so I thought I would give it a try.
This recipe was already made-over for me so I can't take credit for that. Basically this dish is just made with skim milk and reduced fat cream cheese and mozzarella. I did make a few changes to increase the flavor. I added some pepper because I need a little spice in my life. I used Italian-style diced tomatoes as an easy way to up the flavor, and I topped it off with a sprinkling of Italian seasonings. The sauce was pleasantly creamy and delicious. I certainly didn't miss the extra fat!
Preparing this dish got me curious about what pastitsio actually is. My knowledge of Italian food doesn't extend much further than spaghetti and macaroni and cheese! I found a recipe for pastitsio in a Cook's Country magazine and learned that it actually isn't even Italian. It's Greek and is commonly described as "Greek lasagna." And it turns out that this recipe isn't the most authentic version of pastitsio. Traditional pastitsio is a layered casserole of tomato flavored meat sauce, pasta, and bechamel sauce. This reduced fat recipe takes the short cut of using cream cheese to thicken the sauce instead of making bechamel sauce from scratch. And it doesn't include a real meat sauce, but a combination of meat and tomatoes. Instead of layering, the ingredients are just mixed together and spread in a baking dish.
While making this, the sauce was a little runny and I was afraid it wasn't going to turn out. So I cooked my pasta until it was almost done, but not quite. That allowed the pasta to absorb a little of the liquid in the sauce while it was in the oven and the end result was just the right consistency. Just something to keep in mind!
So to make a batch of your own reduced fat "pastitsio," start by browning and draining a pound of lean ground beef. In the same skillet, saute an onion and some garlic. Meanwhile, cook up some penne.
Add cooked beef, salt, pepper, milk, tomatoes, and cream cheese and cook for a few minutes. Stir it up well so that the cream cheese melts evenly!
Combine the pasta and beef mixture and spread it into a 9x13-inch baking pan.
Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. I later added some Italian seasoning. It needed some color!
Bake it until the cheese is melted.
Come and get it!
Lighter Cheesy Pastitsio
8 oz uncooked whole wheat penne pasta
1 lb lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 cups skim milk
1 (14.5 oz) can Italian style diced tomatoes, drained
6 oz reduced fat cream cheese
3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 Tbsp dried Italian seasonings
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x13" baking dish with cooking spray.
Cook penne in large pot according to package directions until pasta is almost done, but not quite, and drain. Return to pot and set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef to pan and brown, stirring to crumble. Remove beef from pan and drain thoroughly.
While beef is draining, add chopped onion to skillet and saute about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and saute for one more minute, stirring constantly.
Return beef to skillet and add salt, pepper, milk, tomatoes, and cream cheese. Stir until smooth and bring to a simmer. Cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Add beef mixture to pasta and stir to combine. Spread mixture into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and Italian seasonings. Bake 5-10 minutes uncovered until cheese melts.
Recipe adapted from Eat Yourself Skinny