Food and Drink

With ingredients from the freezer and pantry, this turkey pastitsio is a comforting burst of flavor for a cold day

January is often a month for reflection and frugality, and in my kitchen a time to feature the reserves in the pantry and freezer as much as possible. An armchair traveler’s take on the Greek baked pasta dish rich with béchamel sauce and ground meat with bold hits of cinnamon and nutmeg, this is a slightly lightened version using ground turkey — or ground moose or beef if you happen to have some in the freezer — and mushrooms for added depth of flavor; dried mushrooms, and their broth after soaking in hot water added to the béchamel sauce, would also fare well here. For a vegetarian twist, double the mushrooms and toss in spinach, kale, zucchini, or even some artichoke hearts. Long, tube-shaped pasta works best so look for ziti or large rigatoni. Serve with extra grated cheese and some crushed chile flakes. And a tender green-leaf salad with a zingy vinaigrette. — Kim Sunée

Turkey pastitsio

Makes 8 servings

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 pint cremini or shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and coarsely chopped

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste


3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey (or beef or lamb)

1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano plus 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme) or leaves from 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme and oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Salt and pepper

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

2 3/4 cups whole milk, at room temp

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

About 1/8 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg

1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese

1 pound ziti or rigatoni

• In a large deep skillet, heat two tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. If mixture in the pan is a little dry, add another teaspoon or so of olive oil before adding tomato paste. Cook paste, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes; lower heat if paste begins to burn and add a teaspoon or two of water. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add turkey and cook, breaking up meat, until meat is just lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes; stir in herbs and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper. Stir in tomatoes and juice. Cook, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, 20 to 25 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt and pepper, cinnamon, or garlic, as needed.

• Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

• While water is coming to a boil, make the béchamel sauce: Measure milk in a microwave-safe measuring cup and heat until warm. In a medium saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Whisk flour into butter until smooth, and cook, whisking continuously, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk and cook, stirring frequently until sauce is smooth and just starting to thicken, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in nutmeg and one cup cheese; set aside.

• When water comes to a boil, add pasta and cook to al dente (pasta will continue to cook as it bakes in the oven), 7 to 10 minutes, depending on type of pasta. Drain and transfer to a 9-x-13-inch baking dish. Drizzle pasta with 1/2 cup béchamel sauce and stir in 3 cups of meat sauce. Spoon remaining meat sauce on top. If mixture looks a little dry, add in some more milk or broth or water. Drizzle evenly with remaining béchamel. Toss remaining 1/2 cup cheese and remaining 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon together and sprinkle evenly over pasta. Place dish on a sheet pan; cover with aluminum foil and bake 25 to 30 minutes. Remove foil and increase oven temperature to 375 degrees and cook another 10 minutes or until top is golden and bubbling; let stand 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Kim Sunée

Kim Sunée is a bestselling author ("Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home," "A Mouthful of Stars," "Everyday Korean: Fresh, Modern Recipes for Home Cooks") and a former magazine food editor. She's based in Anchorage. For more food and travel, visit