This month's challenge in the Mediterranean food contest is Greek: Pastitsio.
I thought, "Greek? I don't cook Greek food, except for the little lamb pita sandwiches I make sometimes." Those sandwiches always explode right out of the pockets.
I went to tastespotting.com and looked up "pastitsio": a Greek version of lasagna.
I decided to find a way to take the flavors that I love in my little sandwiches and put them into a layered pasta dish.
Cook 1/2 pound of tube pasta, such as penne or ziti, according to directions. Drain and cool slightly, then mix with 4 oz. hummus.
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large leek, thinly sliced
1 pound lamb
1/4 tsp. cumin
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh mint, chopped
Heat the olive oil in a pan and saute the leeks and garlic. When they are soft, transfer them to a bowl. Add the lamb to the pan, and brown it. While it's cooking, season it with salt and pepper, add the cumin, and add the herbs. When the lamb is done, remove it with a slotted spoon and combine it with the leeks and garlic.
3 cloves roasted garlic
1 lb. ricotta cheese
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
Chop or mash the roasted garlic and then mix it with the cheeses.
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2Tbsp. sun-dried tomato paste
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
salt and pepper
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Heat the tomatoes, vinegar, tomato paste, and thyme to a simmer. Add the olives. Season with salt and pepper, and continue to simmer until the liquid has reduced. Turn off the heat, and stir in the parsley.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly oil an 8-inch-square glass baking dish. Spread half the pasta on the bottom, top with half the lamb, then half the cheese, and half the tomatoes. Repeat, and then sprinkle the top with 2 oz. crumbled feta cheese and some sesame seeds.
Bake 30 minutes, and then let it rest for 10 minutes, at least.
I realize not everyone has roasted garlic sitting around, but we've taken to roasting three or four bulbs at a time and storing it in the refrigerator so it's always ready.
If you want the layers to stay intact, you can let it cool completely and then bake it again. On a Friday night, after a long day at the end of a long week of work, we skipped that part.
It isn't a light meal and it isn't a quick meal, but I had a lot of fun making it, and eating it (I admit, I had seconds).