Pastitsio is a quintessential, traditional Greek recipe that is made, with some slight variations, not only throughout Greece, but in Greek households everywhere. But there is one thing that all Greeks can agree on — you never, ever put lamb in pastitsio!
This is a lesson that food writer Colu Henry and The New York Times (NYT) have learned the hard way. Henry caused an uproar in Greek households recently which reverberated like a shot heard around the Greek world. He ruined — RUINED! — every yiayia’s perfect pastitsio recipe, by using ground lamb!
“This classic, comforting Greek baked pasta, which bears many similarities to lasagna, derives its name from the Italian word ‘pasticcio,’ which translates to ‘a mess,’ but really indicates the forgiving, flexible nature of this dish. In this version, lamb is sautéed with garlic, cinnamon, fresh herbs and tomatoes,” as the post on cooking.nytimes.com describes the dish.
The recipe was posted as “Pastitsio (Greek Baked Pasta With Lamb, Cinnamon and Tomatoes)”, on the Times’ Facebook page. It immediately caused dozens of disturbed Greek-Americans to post “Cooking Notes” on the cooking.nytimes.com page, blasting the recipe. Maybe it was just a foodie’s creativity getting the better of him… but whatever the reason behind the recipe, it really struck a chord (in a bad way) with Greeks.
“The recipe is OK. But I’m more Greek than it is,” one reviewer posted in the “Cooking Notes” section of their webpage. Another said “Come on, this is NOT pastitsio. Greek pastitsio has beef ground beef, not so much tomato and, especially, spaghetti number three. Definitely!”
The outcry continued on the “Cooking Notes” page. “This really isn’t Greek. No one in Greece or Cyprus for that matter uses lamb for this dish. Also, way too much tomato sauce. And you do not use ziti. Pastitsio has specific pasta that you can buy at any place that sells Greek food. While your recipe may taste good, it’s just not the traditional pastitsio recipe,” according to one reviewer.
One observer had some practical advice for Henry, saying “This is NOT pastitsio. Stick to Yiayia’s recipe. Or find an actual Greek to show you the way.”
Another couldn’t help but highlight that even the Greek version of the “Despacito” parody song has something on this botched recipe: “Even the song “Thes pastitsio” has the right recipe,” they wrote in scathingly.
Some just wanted the error corrected — and for Mr. Henry to stop insulting all the Greek yiayias of the world — by simply removing every mention of “Greece” from the post. “Unfortunately, this simply isn’t pastitsio. It’s baked ziti. Please consider removing the Greek ‘moniker’, as there is nothing Greek about this dish!” an angry contributor added for good measure.
One lesson that the New York Times, and Henry, might have learned from this abuse of pastitsio is that you just don’t need to fix what isn’t broken. And traditional Greek food is definitely not broken, in any way, shape or form!