RMJ's Venison and Bolet Pastitsio

This Pastitsio is a renegade version of a popular Greek favorite. If you are unsure of how to rehydrate mushrooms - please see the morel blog - Definitely a Morel Decision… my passion for that springtime shroom all year round, for instructions.

Ingredients for the Pasta:
1 lb. penne or pasta of your choice (I used 17.6 oz. (500 g) Fusilloni 6 colours Pasta)
Pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon Olive oil

Ingredients for the Meat Sauce:
2 ounces dried bolets, (previously brushed off and rehydrated)
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
3 cups chopped Vidalia onion (previously, trimmed, peeled, and cut into small dice)
4 cloves Garlic (peeled, trimmed and minced)
2 pounds Ground Venison
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 ½ teaspoons Thyme (leaves only)
1 can (28 oz.) drained seasoned diced tomatoes (preferably Dei Fratelli) - equal to 2 ½ cups

Ingredients for the Béchamel Sauce:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (preferably homemade or Kerrygold)
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups half-and-half
Freshly grated nutmeg (about 1/2 small nutmeg - equal to ¼-½ teaspoons)
⅛ (to ¼) teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Ingredients for the Top Layer:
2 large eggs
1 cup yogurt (homemade or purchased)
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Additional Ingredients:
Vegetable Spray for preparing the pan for baking.

Directions for the Pasta:

In a large pot with a pinch of salted water and one Tablespoon of oil, cook the pasta according to package directions keeping it al dente; drain well and set aside.

Directions for the Meat Sauce:

In a small saucepan, over medium-high heat sauté the rehydrated bolets in some of the liquid from rehydrating for about 6-8 minutes, adding liquid when necessary to keep them from drying out. Once you are at the end of the cooking time, the liquid should be totally absorbed. Chop the bolets once they have cooled; set aside.

In a large pan or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions and sauté for about 6-8 minutes or until they are turning brown. Add minced garlic and sauté another minute.

Reduce heat to Medium and add the venison in bits. Once it turns brown, add the cinnamon, oregano, and thyme; mix well. Add the tomatoes, and simmer for about 8-10 minutes. Adjust seasonings if necessary; add in cooked and chopped bolets; mix well. Set completed meat sauce aside until assembly.

Directions for the Béchamel Sauce:

In a saucepot over medium heat, add the butter. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour (don't panic if it is all clumpy - you will take care of that). In a steady stream, slowly whisk in the half-and-half. Continue whisking; add in the nutmeg, cayenne, and salt. Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens (it will just start to boil). Remove from heat source and whisk in the Parmigiano-Reggiano; mix well and set aside.

Putting the Pastitsio Together:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Set rack to middle position.

Spray a 14 x 10 inch pan. Using a third of the reserved meat sauce spread an even layer in the bottom of the sprayed pan. Place half of the pasta on top of the meat sauce. Add another third of the meat sauce; spread evenly. Place the remaining pasta on top and finish with the remaining meat sauce.

Gently spoon the béchamel over the top spreading evenly across the top.

Time to add the very top layer. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and yogurt; mix until smooth. Add in the Parmigiano-Reggiano; mix well.

Pour the egg layer over the top of the béchamel, again spreading it evenly across the top. Place finished pan in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown (check at the 30 minute mark and rotate pan). Remove finished Pastitsio from the oven; set on a wire rack for about 5-10 minutes; cut into sections and serve.

Ruth Mossok Johnston