Manestra (Greek Pasta in Tomato Sauce)

20200223_215124This may not be one of the most well known (if at all) Greek dishes to those who are not Greek, but ask any kid who grew up with traditional Greek food and this will likely be one of their favorites.

20200223_215508(All links open a new page, so you won’t lose your spot when you look around!  Get information on gardening and cultural traditions, recipes, stories, and more!)

Similar in some ways to spaghetti, manestra is made with kritharaki (orzo) pasta.  But instead of preparing the pasta and sauce separately, the pasta is cooked in the sauce.  When I was growing up, kritharaki was not easily found, so my mom regularly prepared this using regular spaghetti noodles.  In fact, I never had spaghetti prepared any other way!  Now this dish is one of my boys’favorites, too.

20200223_215932Manestra (mah-NEH-strah) is one of those dishes that can be made simply, or jazzed up a bit with just a couple of additions.  It’s traditionally made without any meat, and so it is a perfect meal for times of fasting like Great Lent (but you won’t feel like you’re sacrificing much!).  A sprinkling of grated hard cheese like Kefalotyri, dry Mizithra, or Parmesan all work well as a topping if you’d like.  


Manestra (Greek Pasta in Tomato Sauce)

  • Difficulty: easier than telling my kids it's not ready, yet
  • Print


  • 3/4 to 1 pound onion, sliced
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided in two 1/4 cup portions
  • 5 to 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
  • 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, pureed
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano, Greek preferred
  • 1 tsp. each dried basil, thyme, parsley, and marjoram (or use an equal amount of a mixed herb seasoning like McCormick’s Italian Seasoning)
  • 1 cup burgundy wine
  • 2 cups kritharaki pasta (also called orzo)
  • 1 cup Kalamata olives (optional)
  • water
  • salt and pepper as desired


In a large pan or wide pot, saute onions in 1/4 cup of the olive oil until they are translucent and just starting to turn brown.  Add the garlic and saute a minute more.  Add the tomato sauce, pureed diced tomatoes, herbs, and wine and mix together.

Now this next step seems to be a “Greek thing” though I’m sure it’s a technique used by others.  The cans from the tomatoes and sauce will be used as measuring cups.  I’m pretty sure it started as a means of getting every last drop out of whatever was in the can.  Add 2 1/2 cans worth of water to the pot and mix it in (this is equivalent to about 4 1/3 cups).  Bring almost to a boil, then turn down to a low setting to simmer.

Add the pasta, olives, and the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and mix in.  Keep the heat at a low setting and using a flat edged spatula, stir regularly by pushing along the bottom of the pan.  You cannot let the pasta sit for more than a minute or two between stirring as the pasta will stick to the bottom.  If this happens, just remove it from the heat and push gently with the spatula to loosen it, then return back to the heat.

Continue cooking the pasta until nearly all the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is almost done.  Remove from the heat and cover the pan.  Allow to sit for five to ten minutes to allow the pasta to soften and the sauce to thicken.  Serve topped with grated hard cheese of your choice.  Enjoy!

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