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When Tuttorosso Tomatoes asked us to celebrate our family traditions, we knew we had to go big – because that’s what my family is all about. Big, bold flavors and big Greek celebrations. After all, many of my family traditions and recipes are based on Greek traditions.

Tuttorosso Tomatoes have been around for 85 years–so they’ve been a part of a lot of family traditions. They graciously sent us some of their tomatoes including no-salt added crushed tomatoes, tomato puree and diced tomatoes. Their labels have improved too, making it that much easier to determine what tomatoes to use for each recipe. Based on the label, we knew that for a lasagna a puree would be perfect.

You too can participate “Celebrate Your Tradition” promotion – which runs through May 7. It involves two steps:

  1. Like the Tuttorosso Facebook page, and
  2. Post who has been an inspiration in your family cooking tradition and how you would celebrate in their honor.

The winner will receive a $250 prize pack that includes a serving plate, sauce ladle, pasta pot set and heirloom wooden spoon, plus $300 to a dinner celebration of the winner’s choosing.

For us, one dish that really speaks to tradition is pastitsio. Pastitsio, or “Greek lasagna,” is something my family loves and we only see it twice a year–at Thanksgiving and Easter. We missed both of them this year, so it was about time we created it at home.

I was a little hesitant to put my own spin on the family classic. Tradition is important to all families. When it comes to pastitsio, we know we have to have it, but there are different opinions about how it should look and taste. My Aunt Jane covers her pastitsio with layers of buttery phyllo dough, while a family friend covers the top with a thick béchamel sauce. Some families will put a layer of tomato sauce on top of the  béchamel sauce. Keeping all of the versions in mind, I wanted to try something a little different.

When we lived in Milwaukee, we were only a few blocks away from a Greek grocery store. You could go there and find all of the Greek goodies necessary for a Greek kitchen including dozens of varieties of feta (so much cheaper and tastier than you would find in a regular grocery store), meat for the best gyros and Greek noodles in all shapes in sizes. Sadly, we haven’t been able to find such a treasure since we moved to the DC metro area. (To be fair, we probably haven’t been looking hard enough.)

Because of that, this recipe was created out of necessity more than anything. We couldn’t find some of the ingredients – the noodles and some Greek cheese – around us and we didn’t plan enough in advance to purchase them online. So, we made it work with the ingredients we could find. In the end, we love how it turned out. It had all the flavors, and it was a little easier than some of the other versions we’ve tried.

Who knows if this recipe will be the go-to pastitsio recipe for the big holidays, but I do know that it instantly made me feel like we were home with my family – even if we were 600 miles away. That’s the thing about tradition, it makes you feel at home even if you’re not.

This post is sponsored by Tuttorosso Tomatoes. The opinions expressed here, as always, are our own. Photo credit: Dan Jecha

Greek Pastitsio

3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 lbs organic ground sirloin
2 cups Tuttorosso tomato puree
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp all spice
1/4 tsp cloves
Salt and pepper to taste

1 stick of butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk (room temperature)
1/4 cup dry white wine
Pinch of nutmeg
3 oz feta cheese
2 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup Romano cheese, grated*
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated*
*If possible, replace the romano and parmesan cheeses with 1/2 cup kefalotyri cheese.
1 9 oz. package fresh lasagna noodles
Paprika for garnish

Meat mixture: Heat the olive oil to a saucepan. Add onions. Saute until soft, approximately 5 minutes. Add the ground sirloin and cook until the meat is no longer pink, approximately 5 minutes. Add the red wine to quickly deglaze the pan. After 1 minute, add the tomato puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt and pepper. Cook the mixture for 15 minutes. Set aside and allow it to cool while you prepare the béchamel sauce.

Béchamel sauce: Melt the butter in a pan. Add the flour and stir. Cook the butter and flour mixture, constantly stirring, until it becomes a nice golden brown, approximately 5-7 minutes. Slowly add the milk and white wine, constantly stirring in order to prevent lumps. Add the nutmeg and the cheeses until the cheese is mostly melted and the mixture becomes thick, stirring throughout the process to prevent burning. (The feta may not melt completely, just make sure there aren’t any large lumps.)

Assembly: Preheat the oven to 375° F. Grease a 9 X 13″ pan. Place a very thin layer of the meat mixture on the bottom. Add a single layer of the fresh pasta on top. On top of the pasta, add one third of the remaining meat mixture. On top of the meat, add approximately 3/4 cup of the cheese sauce. Add another layer of pasta, 1/3 of the meat mixture and another 3/4 cup of the cheese sauce. Repeat one more time. Add the final layer of pasta. Pour the remainder of the cheese sauce on top. Sprinkle a little paprika for color. Cook the pastitsio at 375° F for one hour. After an hour, take the pastitsio out of the oven and allow it to rest for at least a half hour.