While scrolling through Facebook, I came across a post from a friend of mine who lives in Venezuela, or so I thought. In his post, he was informing his friends that he had recently moved to Europe and was apologizing to all the people he was unable to say goodbye to.
I got a bit sentimental and said, “No. He’s the last one of the guys. He can’t leave!”
This friend – Pedro – was someone that was a childhood friend; one of several in a group of us who lived in the same apartment complex as children; we have all continued to stay in touch with one another throughout the years.
I spent the first 13 years of my life in Venezuela, before moving to Mexico. Most of the others in this group of friends in Venezuela moved away as well. Pedro was the last of us that remained.
I started thinking about those childhood days, living in that residential apartment complex. We didn’t have to go outside to play, we would just meet downstairs in the lobby area every day after getting home from school and doing homework. That’s why this group became so close.
There were 12 apartments in the building, four to each floor, and each family knew the others.
I remember making friends with the Italian family in the apartment above mine. I’m not exactly certain if they were in the country for business purposes, for family, or for some other reason, but I was glad they were there.
Venezuela, in that era, had a thriving petroleum industry, and many Europeans immigrated there in the 1940s-1980s as they left their war torn countries, seeking asylum and a better life for their families.
We had a lot of immigrants from Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Arab nations. In the ’60s, Venezuela was becoming known as the “Dubai of Latin America.” One of the most beautiful things about Venezuela is the combination of people and their traditions, and the fact that no matter the color of a person’s skin, or the accent of one’s tongue, we’re all proud to be Venezuelan.
As I’ve grown older, I have realized the influence other countries have had on Venezuela through the many years, especially in food.
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to travel through Europe – My mother and I visited several countries, including France, UK, Spain, and Italy.
The first meal I ate while in Italy was lasagna. When I had that first bite of authentic Italian lasagna, my firth thought was, “wow, this tastes a lot like pasticho!”
So, a couple days ago when my friend posted that he would be leaving Venezuela, so many thoughts ran through my head, but nearly all of them ended at the same point: I want pasticho.
Pasticho is basically Venezuelan lasagna, but instead of marinara, we use a béchamel sauce, which is made with a milk-based roux.
This was one of my favorite meals as a little girl – and it’s still one of my all-time favorites.
Mom would cook the dish for me every year for my birthday. It reminds me of a simpler time; some of the best years of my life. It reminds me of myself – a mixture of flavors, some strong, some soft; a fusion of cultures, but very Venezuelan. A perfect mess.
In fact, the word “Pasticho” translated from Italian to English means “mess.”
So today, I made Pasticho. It’s similar to lasagna, but made with a cream sauce. Try it. I think you’ll like it. It is Venezuela.
(feeds 3-4 people)
2 Cups of Milk
1 tsp Corn starch (maizena)
1 tsp All-purpose flour*
4 tsp Butter
1 pinch Nutmeg
1 pinch Salt
*If you don’t have cornstarch substitute it with flour.
Melt butter in the pan, on medium heat. When it starts to brown, add corn starch and flour. Continue stirring constantly, and add milk until the mix becomes smooth.
Add nutmeg and salt.
Once you get the consistency wanted take it out of the stove and letting seat in a side. (Consider that when it cools down the consistency is going to get a little thicker than when you first take it out of the fire).
** If the béchamel is too thick, add a little more of milk. If it is too light, let it simmer on low heat, stirring constantly.
Meat sauce and pasticho construction
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Box of Lasagna pasta
1 lb ground beef
5 Chopped Tomatoes
1 clove Garlic chopped
1 Onion, finely chopped
1 Red bell pepper, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 Cup Red wine (I used brandy this time because we didn’t have red wine, and I really liked the results)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Approx 7-10 stalks of fresh Parsley, finely chopped
Approx 10-12 large leaves of fresh Basil, finely chopped
1 tsp Oregano
1 bay leaf
1 pinch cumin
Pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
2 cups Mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat olive oil in large pan on medium heat and sauté garlic, onion and red bell pepper. Add tomatoes. When vegetable mix starts changing color, take half of it and blend.
Add blended mix back into vegetable mix.
Add ground beef, mix, and cook.
Add red wine and allow to simmer on low-medium heat for about 10 minutes to cook out alcohol.
Add Worcestershire Sauce, herbs, cumin, salt, pepper and bay leaf and let simmer on low for about 15 minutes.
In a square baking dish, coat sides with butter and place a few scoops of béchamel sauce on bottom of dish.
Place lasagna sheet(s) across bottom in layer-style.
Layer lasagna sheets, béchamel, meat mixture, and cheese. Then add another layer of pasta sheet, béchamel, meat and cheese – until ingredients are finished.
The last layer should be béchamel sauce with a thick layer of mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake on 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
Remove aluminum foil and place uncovered dish back into oven for another 5 minutes to allow cheese to brown.
Remove from heat. Let cool.