When I was a fresh-faced college junior, I spent a semester studying in Athens (one of the best times in my life, and which helped seal the deal on me settling here eventually). That year for Carnival (Mardi Gras), I traveled to the island of Corfu (Kerkyra in Greek).
I had a great time exploring the beautiful city of Kerkyra and the rest of the island. Little did I know that S – as yet undiscovered by me – was living about a block from where I was out dancing in the streets with my feathery mask.
S lived in Corfu for seven years, and it remains one of his favorite places in Greece. When we first met, we dreamed of moving to Corfu some day. We haven’t ruled it out, but we are taking a break from the islands to enjoy the easier lifestyle of the mainland. But he still longs for Corfu, and when we visited the island together as a married couple, he seemed intent on taking me to at least twenty restaurants in only three (cold, overcast) days.
Corfiot cuisine is heavily influenced by Italian, French, and British cuisine, but it retains its Greek nature and this is what makes Corfiot food so unique. They tend to use more spices, and to use different spice combinations, than we find in the rest of Greece.
One of the dishes that S really liked was pastitsada, which is basically rooster baked in a spiced tomato sauce, over pastitsada noodles – long thick spaghetti noodles with a hole through the center. Instead of rooster, veal or chicken are sometimes used. That’s all a bit rich for us, so I wanted to see if I could just make the sauce and serve it over the pastitsada noodles for a frugal crisis-appropriate version. I didn’t have really high hopes for this one, but I figured if the end result was a nice, slightly different, red sauce for pasta, that would be just fine. As it turned out, we loved it – the earthy flavors had enough character that we didn’t even miss the meat. So if you’re looking for a new twist on the classic spaghetti with tomato sauce, give it a try.
When S came into the kitchen as I was finishing this up, he asked what I was making. I said (hesitantly) “Pastitsada – without meat.” He laughed and scoffed – after all, he considers himself somewhat of an expert on this particular dish (the eating of it, anyway). So I was understandably a little nervous. We sat down to eat and I asked him, “well, is it anything like pastitsada?”
“No! It’s not like pastitsada – it is pastitsada! (Without meat.)”
And then we had a lovely meal, where we talked about Corfu and the other islands in the Ionian Island archipelago. I’m so happy that this simple sauce brought back so many lovely memories of his favorite island.
The pastitsada noodles are sold by Misko in the Traditional line in Greece. They’re almost the same as regular pastitsio noodles (spaghetti no. 10).
Boil the noodles.
Cut the tomatoes in half or quarters depending on their size.
Saute the garlic in a little olive oil. Add the spices and the bay leaves and let them toast together.
Stir in the tomatoes and the sauce they’re packed in. (If your tomatoes come in a watery sauce more like tomato juice than tomato sauce, add 1-2 tbsp tomato paste to the recipe.) My tomatoes come with a lot of sauce, which I won’t use all of in the dish, but I cook it all together anyway. Let it simmer.
Add the wine. Let it simmer.
Melt some butter in the pasta pot over low heat. Add the drained pasta and half the cheese and stir vigorously to prevent sticking.
Portion the pasta.
Put the tomatoes on the pasta, with a little sauce. If your tomatoes had a lot of sauce with them like mine, the extra sauce can be used in another recipe (it would be really good in tomato soup).
Note to post skimmers: real pastitsada has rooster meat and is baked in the oven. This is the frugal and quick version that I made up and I’m not claiming it’s ‘authentic’ in any way!
230g pastitsada noodles (or spaghetti no. 10 for pastitsio)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp olive oil (from a sprayer or drizzled)
2 cans (800g total) whole tomatoes in tomato sauce
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
1 tsp dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp (30mL) red wine
1 tbsp butter
4 tbsp grated myzithra or parmesan cheese, divided
1. Boil the pasta al dente in a large pot of salted water. Strain, set aside. Quarter each of the tomatoes (or halve, if they’re small); reserve the liquid.
2. Make the sauce while the pasta is boiling. Spray or drizzle a skillet with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the crushed garlic with the spices (bay leaves, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and paprika). Stir for two minutes until the spices are fragrant.
3. Add in the quartered tomatoes (with their liquid), the tomato paste, the sugar, and the salt. Stir and let simmer for about 5 minutes until it thickens.
4. Stir in the red wine and simmer for about 15-20 more minutes, allowing it to thicken up again.
5. Put the butter in the now-empty pasta pot and warm over low heat. When it melts and starts to turn a golden-brown color, add the drained pasta and stir in 2 tbsp of cheese.
6. When the cheese has melted, divide the pasta into bowls. Remove the bay leaves from the sauce. Top pasta with the tomato quarters and a few tablespoons of the tomato sauce, and the remaining cheese.
per serving, i.e., half of the entire recipe
13g fat (6g saturated, 7g unsaturated)
8g dietary fiber
23mg cholesterol (8% DV)
1,727mg sodium (72% DV) – note: this assumes salted tomatoes, I used sodium free.
1,440mg potassium (41% DV)
Contains a significant amoun t(+10% DV) of the following:
vitamin A, calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, folic acid, food folate, manganese, and copper.