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Mexico and Greece Had a Baby and It's Called Chili Verde Pastitsio

In conjunction with my Misura giveaway, I was given the task of coming up with a recipe featuring some of their products. As soon as I saw this sedani pasta, I knew what I wanted to make immediately and so they sent me some pasta and a bag of whole wheat rusks, which are perfect for bread crumb making. Back when I first started blogging, one of my first dishes was a chili verde lasagna. One  of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was to participate in my friend's month long lasagna challenge. Jen, from Piccante Dolce, was hosting this challenge and she encouraged me to start food blogging so I took that opportunity to try the whole thing out back in November of 2010. Clearly, it worked out well because here I am, carrying the torch, although Jen has taken some time off to start a family. The other dish I made for this challenge was pastitsio, which is kind of like Greek lasagna. For years I have been toying with the idea of doing a bunch of fusion style pastitsios but I just never get around to it. I really like the construction of the dish but I don't love the flavours of the traditional version. Sometimes you just need a push to force you to do things.

So, on to the dish. Making a traditional pastitsio is not hard, but it's time consuming and it dirties up every dish in your kitchen so I was looking for a way to make the whole process a bit easier and something you could actually do in a reasonable amount of time. The first thing I did was make the chili verde ahead of time. I just set aside 2 1/2 cups of it and froze it, labeling it so I would remember that it was for the pastitsio and we ate the rest of it that week like we always do, over rice like a stew. I also cut my original recipe pretty much in half because it's a heavy dish and we just don't need to make a giant try to feed a dozen people very often.

Fast forward to pastitstio time and I took the chili verde out of the freezer and let it thaw out all day while I went about my business. About 2 hours before dinner time, I cooked the pasta, drained it and let it cool while I grated the cheese, whizzed the rusks, made the bechamel and buttered my dish. Now, all I had to do was mix the cooled pasta with the egg and bechamel, build the dish and pop it in the oven. You can even cook the pasta earlier in the day or even the day before but let it sit out while you do the other stuff so it can come to room temperature. Suddenly pastitsio is doable mid week and not just something you make on the weekend when you can commit to a few hours in the kitchen.

I am going to be perfectly honest with you here. This stuff was even better than I thought it would be and I think I prefer this version over the traditional Greek, spiced meat filling. Sorry Greece. SΣυγγνώμη φίλοι μου. The acidic tartness of the tomatillos is totally mellowed out by the rich bechamel sauce and it doesn't feel as heavy as it does with the meat filling.

This sedani was fabulous in this dish. The shape is perfect and because whole wheat pasta is heartier than white, it really holds it shape, even after an hour of baking. I usually use penne, which is fine, but the sedani's straight cut ends make constructing the dish easier and I could push it around and fill the corners neatly. The only person who noticed that there was something up with the pasta was Shack, but he is my toughtest customter so just the fact that he happily ate it up without only a hint of grumble is actually a big deal. He usually won't even eat anything I make with whole wheat pasta, to be perfectly honest. The rusks that I used make great dry bread crumbs and I buzzed up the whole package and put it in a jar and have been using it ever since.

This is now our official way to use up the leftover chili verde from now on.

Don't forget to enter the contest, if you haven't, for a chance at winning your own $100 gift package from Misuras line of healthy biscuits, pasta and crackers.

*I was asked to develop a recipe using Misura products and they gave me the pasta and the rusks to use but my opinions are my own.

Chili Verde Pastitsio

serves 4-6

1/2 lb (250g) Misura sedani or some other tube shaped pasta
2 eggs, beaten lightly
2 tbls freshly grated parmesan
1/2 cup bechamel

4 tbls butter
5 tbls flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp peppercorns
4 heaping tbls freshly grated parmesan
1/4 to 1/2 tsp kosher salt
ten grinds of black pepper

For Final Assembly:
1 tbls soft butter
2 1/2 cups chili verde
1 1/2 cups bechamel
3 tbls Misura Whole Wheat Rusk crumbs (or dried bread crumbs)
2 tbls freshly grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350F

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta for about 11 minutes or according to package directions. You want it el dente because if it is too soft, it will not hold it's shape nicely. Drain and let cool.

Crush the rusks to make crumbs either in a food processor or by putting them in a bag and crushing them with a rolling pin or something. The food processor works much better.

Make the bechamel by heating the milk with the bay leaf and peppercorns in it over med-low heat until it's about 150F. In another pot over medium heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour, stirring constantly for about three minutes. Strain the hot milk and slowly start to ladle the hot milk into the flour, whisking constantly to make sure it stays smooth. I just started to pour it in small amounts through a strainer right from one pot to the other which dirties one less vessel. It's up to you. Keep doing this until all of the milk is incorporated and continue to whisk and cook until it's nice and thick, another 3 to 5 minutes. This makes a very thick bechamel so don't worry. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the cheese and /14 tsp kosher salt and pepper, taste and add a bit more salt if needed.

Put the drained pasta in a bowl and mix it with the two beaten eggs, 2 tbls parmesan and about 1/2 cup of the bechamel.

Now, butter the bottom and sides of your baking dish. This fit perfectly into a 6 Cup (1.5L) rectangular baking dish. Spread half of the pasta over the bottom of the dish, making sure you push it around so that it gets into the corners. Now put the chili verde over the top of that and spread that evenly, right to the edges. Cover the chili verde with the rest of the pasta , again making sure it covers all the way into the corners. Now start putting your bechamel over the top, spreading it with a spatula, until it completely covers the top layer. This came right up to the top of my dish, which is fine.
Last but not least, mix the Rusk or bread crumbs and the parmesan and sprinkle that liberally over the top of the whole thing.

Put the dish in the middle rack of the oven and cook it for an  hour. Remove from the oven and let it sit for at least 20-30 minutes before cutting into it. It is meant to be eaten warm or at room temperature and it needs time to set up.

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