Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"The New York Cabbie Cookbook" - Greek Macaroni Pie - Pastitsio

Date I made this recipe: Sunday, March 1, 2009

The New York Cabbie Cookbook – More than 120 Authentic Homestyle Recipes from Around the Globe All from Cabbies! by Mary Ellen Winston and Holly Garrison
Published by: Running Press Book Publishers
ISBN: 0-7624-1228-3
Recipe – Greek Macaroni Pie (Pastitsio) submitted by cabbie Sophie Polykratis – p. 116-117

I’ve been to New York an awful lot over the course of my life and I’ve ridden in my fair share of cabs and have my share of stories: I’ve been taken Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride through the streets of Manhattan, I’ve had to guess the cross street of one of my destinations and I’ve had near-death experiences when overeager cab drivers decided to play drag racers on the streets of Manhattan. And yet I’ve never wanted to ride in a cab more than I want to ride in the Cash Cab.

That’s right. Cash Cab. It’s a game show on the Discovery Channel that takes place in a cab - http://dsc.discovery.com/fansites/cashcab/cashcab.html. Here’s how it works: a mini-van cab (never a sedan, just in case you go hunting for it) pulls up and the unsuspecting contestants/riders get in. Then music plays, lights start flashing and Ben Bailey, the host of the show (and the cab driver) announces that the individuals are on Cash Cab, briefly explains the rules and asks if they want to play. Sometimes the riders recognize him and the show and are eager to play along, other times they have to be coaxed although seriously, how hard is it to decide to answer questions for money along the way?

Because people, this game is all about earning money. As Ben drives them to their destination, he also asks them a series of questions. The first couple of questions are worth $25 ($50 if you’re on Cash Cab After Dark), the next are worth $50 and the last are worth $100. If they answer three questions incorrectly, Ben kicks them to the curb and they are done-game over! If they need some help, they get one mobile shout out and one street shout out (these are oftentimes hilarious as the contestants must try to find people on the street who look competent enough to answer the question); believe it or not, some contestants forget about these shout-outs until it is too late. (This forgetfulness about drives my husband crazy – he’s always yelling at the screen “Use your shout out, use your shout out!”)

And so if the riders are lucky they will earn money all the way to their destination (oftentimes 30 blocks or more) and get the opportunity to go for double or nothing on a video bonus round.

Now my husband absolutely loves this show and almost always yells at the contestants to go for the video bonus. I love this show, too, but I love money more, and so right now we have an unofficial understanding that if we are so lucky to hail this cab the next time in New York, and if we are so lucky as to get to our destination without being kicked out then we will take the money and run. I don’t care how much money we win, we are leaving.

But my guy always has that glint in his eye when he nods his head in agreement and so I’m never quite sure we’ll be on the same page should we end up on the show. He thinks that the video bonus is often a softball and yet just the other day, we just watched some guy earn $900 on the way to his destination only to blow it on the bonus round. (This time around, though, Andy and I knew the answer and were screaming it at the screen “It’s in Ohio. Dude, it’s in Ohio! Say Ohio!” But he did not say “Ohio” in response to the question “Where is Cedar Point Amusement Park located?” )

And so even though we differ what to do with our winnings should we actually land on the show and then win something, we were in agreement that tonight’s dinner, in honor of his birthday, should come from this cookbook. If we can’t be in New York in Cash Cab then cooking from a cabbie cookbook is the next, best thing (even if there’s no money involved).

By the way, if you are in New York, Astoria, Queens, has a fairly large Greek community. Years ago, a friend and I went to The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens and then went to a Greek restaurant to eat. These days, Queens (or “Quins” as some of my Hispanic friends say) is full of all kinds of ethnic groups and so you should be able to branch out and have some of the other types of food and dishes found in this cookbook.

The other advantage to living in or visiting New York, besides the great variety of ethnic foods, (and searching for Cash Cab) is that you’ll likely be able to find some of the ingredients called for in this recipe. I finally found both bucatini and perciatelli pasta at an Italian grocery store here in town (Cossetta’s) but struck out on the cheese (and so substituted parmesan) and zwieback crumbs. I suppose I could have called a cab (we don’t hail a cab in these parts) to take me to a few Mediterranean grocery stores but the cabbies most certainly wouldn’t have paid me by the answer and so that was that. I mean, who pays the driver these days when the driver can pay you?!

Enjoy your pastitsio – Oopa!

Greek Macaroni Pie (Pastitsio) – Makes 8 servings
Meat Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef (90 percent lean)
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano leaves (Greek, if possible), crumbled
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup canned tomato sauce
2-inch cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves, tied into a small piece of cheesecloth
8 ounces bucatini or perciatelli (a thin, hollow spaghetti), broken in half
Bechamel Sauce
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ pound (1 stick) butter
6 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 cup freshly grated Kefalotiri or good-quality Parmesan cheese
1 cup zwieback crumbs (ground in a food processor. Note: the author indicates that you can use paxmimadi, a Greek bread, but good luck finding that. Regular bread crumbs are NOT a good substitute so I just left them out.)

Prepare the Meat Sauce: Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook just until softened, about 1 minute more. Add the ground beef, and cook, breaking up the meat with the side of a spoon, until it is crumbled and no pink remains. Stir in the oregano, salt and pepper until well blended. Stir in the tomato sauce, cinnamon stick, and cheese-cloth packet of cloves. Reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Uncover, and continue cooking, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated and been absorbed into the meat. Remove from the heat and set aside.

While the meat sauce is cooking, boil the pasta in a large pot of lightly salted water until barely tender, about 10 minutes. Drain into a colander and rinse very well with cold water and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish and set aside.

Prepare the Bechamel Sauce: Heat the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat until bubbly. Add the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture bubbles. Rapidly whisk in the milk, and continue to cook, stirring with the whisk, until all the sauce simmers and is thick and smooth. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs until well blended. Stir a couple of spoonful of the hot milk mixture into the eggs to temper them, then rapidly whisk the egg mixture into the milk mixture. Season with salt and white pepper.

Evenly arrange half the pasta in the bottom of the prepared baking dish and sprinkle evenly with half the cheese. Remove the cinnamon stick and cloves from the meat sauce. Spoon all the meat sauce over the pasta. Add the remaining pasta, and sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese. Spoon the béchamel sauce evenly over the top, smoothing it lightly with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle evenly with the crumbs.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Remove from the oven and let stand for about 20 minutes before cutting into serving portions.

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