Hospitality 101: Large gatherings

Without a doubt, pasta is my comfort food and food that makes it very easy for me to prepare when entertaining guests in my home. When growing up, the one staple dish that we could always expect at a large gathering was none other than the wonderful ‘pastitsio’. A generous layer of penne pasta topped with a rich tomato mince sauce and completed with a creamy béchamel sauce.

It was always assembled in those large round steel baking dishes; my Greek friends and relatives know exactly what I am talking about!!

Seriously, what I love about this dish is that even though it is a little time consuming, the best thing about it is that you can make it ahead of time, say a day or two before your large gathering, and then just bake it on the day. What’s more, you will be glad you did because not only will you feel more rested for your guests, but you will notice the richness of the flavours have infused the whole dish and people will be singing your praises!

After Greek Easter this year, we had quite a bit of lamb leftover. What I usually do with it is cut it up into bite size pieces and create a lamb and feta pie for the family to join us at a later date. But this year, I mixed things up a little and decided to use the leftover lamb to make a pastitsio.

Oh. My. Goodness! The smoky woody flavour of the lamb was out of this world. I made the pastitsio the day before my guests were arriving, as I wanted to capitalize on the flavour. Next day I baked it in the oven and served it with a Greek salad and homemade bread.

My guests were singing my praises and begging me for the recipe. It’s amazing what a little wood-fire does to the flavours of your food!

This recipe is like a backstop. If everything else fails, or is just ordinary, this isn’t; it is satisfying, comforting, filling and super tasty. Well, that’s how I see it and when I have a big crowd coming over, this is definitely on the menu.

I’d love to hear from you and what works best for you when you are having a large crowd for lunch or dinner! Do you have a ‘go to’ recipe that ‘saves the day’?

Would you like to share your story and recipe on my blog?

Meanwhile, here’s the recipe for you to try out at your next big gathering – and if you happen to be roasting a lamb on a spit soon – use the leftovers for the meat section.

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Pastitsio

Serves 6 – 8

Ingredients

500g penne pasta
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
50g feta
¼ cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Salt & pepper, to taste
Meat Sauce
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground paprika
500g lamb mince
1 (400g) can of diced Roma tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock liquid
½ cup fresh Italian parsley
1 egg, lightly beaten
Bechamel Sauce
125g unsalted butter, chopped
½ cup plain flour
4 cups milk
½ cup grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling
2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
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Method

  1. Add pasta to a large pot of boiling water. Cook according to instructions on packet. Drain. Place pasta in a greased baking dish. Add eggs, cheese and breadcrumbs and mix through. Crumble feta on top and sprinkle parsley all over pasta. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Meat Sauce
  1. Heat oil in pan, adding onions and garlic until transparent. Add spices and mix through. Add mince and cook until browned. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken stock and fresh parsley. Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 35 – 40 minutes. Stir in egg. Pour over pasta evenly.
Bechamel Sauce
  1. Place butter in a medium size pot over low heat. Melt but do not allow to boil. Add flour, mix through and stir until bubbling. Add milk and whisk constantly to remove any lumps. Keep whisking until sauce thickens. Stir in cheese and eggs with nutmeg. Pour sauce evenly over meat sauce. Sprinkle extra parmesan on top.
  1. Bake in a moderate oven for about 45 – 50 minutes or until golden on top and cooked through.
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