Dinner · North African · Pasta

A Dreamy Pasta Bake – Makroona Béchamel

One of the best, yet underrated, comfort foods is a baked pasta. Consider lasagna, manicotti, stuffed shells, baked ziti and many other random dishes of baked pasta that are usually thrown together without a recipe. All of them are warm, delicious and…baked. And makroona béchamel is another one to add to the list. This dish takes quite a bit of preparation, but it is worth the effort.

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The version of makroona béchamel that I learned from my mama is actually a Greek-Egyptian hybrid recipe. Slightly different variations are actually found in Greece, Cyprus and around the Middle East. In Greece, it’s called “pastitsio.” In Cyprus, it’s called “makarónia tou foúrnou,” which translates to “oven macaroni.” In Malta, it’s called “timpana.” Basically, everyone makes it. And you should too!

Let’s discuss the yummy details! It consists of two layers of pasta: the bottom layer is pasta with a tomato-based meat sauce and the top layer is pasta with a béchamel-based sauce. In French cuisine, béchamel is a white sauce and is used as the base of many French sauces. If you are unfamilar with it, a béchamel is always started by whisking together butter and flour over low heat to make a roux. Then warm milk is slowly added while whisking over low heat until the sauce thickens. It’s a bit difficult to get the béchamel smooth the first time you make it. However, an easy way to fix a lumpy béchamel is to blend it with stab mixer after you finished mixing in the milk. It is usually seasoned with just salt and pepper; however, some people also add a pinch of nutmeg. But no nutmeg for me, my mama told me to never use it. 😦 In this version of béchamel, we also whisk in some egg to help it hold together a bit better because no one wants a runny pasta bake.

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

  • 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 lb ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon salt (add more, if needed)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon Libyan bzaar spice mix (if you don’t have any, use Arabic 7-spice and a pinch of turmeric)
  • 2 Tablespoons oregano or Italian seasoning
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 3/4 lb penne or elbow pasta
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 4 Tablespoons flour
  • 3 1/2 cups milk
  • salt, to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 3 eggs
  • handful of shredded cheese (optional)

In a large skillet/pan, sauté your diced onion until softened. Add the ground beef and brown it over medium heat and add in the minced garlic, salt, black pepper, paprika, cayenne (optional), bzaar and oregano/italian seasoning.

Today, I used just oregano because I didn’t have Italian seasoning on hand. But that’s okay! My oregano tastes of nostalgia, fyi. My husband’s mother picked this fresh oregano off a local hillside in Yefren, Libya and then dried it under the hot, Mediterranean sun.

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My oregano tastes like love, Libya & Mediterranean sunshine. 🙂

Once the meat is browned, add the diced tomato and tomato paste. Stir it in well and add a little water if it seems dry (about 1/4 cup or so). Allow this to cook over very low heat as you work on the other parts of this dish. If you notice it drying out at any point, add a little water.

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Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and boil a large pot of salted water for the pasta. Cook the pasta using the package directions. On a third burner, let’s get the béchamel sauce started!

Start by melting butter over low heat in a medium saucepan. When the butter is melted, add the flour and continuously whisk over the low heat. This step is important because you are making the roux that will setup the sauce. What is a roux? Roux is just a fancy word for this butter and flour mixture once it is cooked.

Once it starts to slightly brown, slowly add about 1/2 cup of milk and whisk it until it is relatively smooth. Now pour in about another cup of milk while whisking and repeat until you have added all your milk and the sauce is relatively smooth. If your béchamel is very lumpy, you can use a stab mixer to blend it smooth. At this point, you can continue using a whisk or switch to a wooden spoon.

At this point, your stovetop should look very busy:

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I am going to ask the husband to wash the dishes tonight.

Back to the béchamel sauce! Keep mixing the sauce as it starts to warm and thicken (you need to whisk/mix it every 30 seconds or so). After about 7-10 minutes (possibly a little longer, be patient!), you should have a thick béchamel sauce. Once it is thick, you can add salt and pepper to taste. When the sauce sticks to a wooden spoon, you know it is ready and should remove the saucepan from the heating element.

img_5243
That is a beautiful, creamy bechamel sauce. Totally worth the effort.

Allow the béchamel to slightly cool (3-4 minutes), then whisk in two eggs. At this point, we will move back to the cooked and strained pasta! After the pasta has slightly cooled, pour it back into the pot you boiled it in and mix in an egg. The egg will help bind the pasta together once it is baked.

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Now it is time to assemble! Finally. This dish is a lot of work, but it is totally worth it. Pour half the pasta in a greased 9×13 baking dish or pan. Stir in the chopped parsley into the ground beef sauce and check the salt level, adjust if needed. Mix the ground beef sauce into the pasta and then smooth out the pasta layer. Some recipes actually just pour the ground beef sauce over the bottom layer of pasta without mixing it in, so it’s your choice. If you’d like (optional), sprinkle a little shredded cheese over this layer to help bind the bottom layer of pasta with the top layer. Even if you skip the cheese, you’ll be fine.

Next, pour the other half of the pasta on top of the first layer. Gently spread it out. Finally, slowly pour the béchamel sauce over the pasta. I usually start at one corner and gently pour across longwise, then do the same across the middle and then onto the other side of the pan. Be sure to cover the entire surface. Place the baking dish in the center of the preheated oven. And if you used a glass baking dish, take a moment to admire the two distinct layers through the side of your dish before closing the oven door. It is truly a thing of beauty.

Allow the pasta to bake in the oven for 55-65 minutes; you will know it is ready when the top of the béchamel is browned.

The pasta should be cooled for about 10 minutes before cutting and serving. When you cut the pasta, I suggest that you first run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the pasta from the sides of your baking dish. And then cut the pasta into pieces that match the size of your spatula. You don’t want your pieces to be smaller than the width of your spatula; otherwise, you’ll be super annoyed when you try to lift out the first few pieces. My favorite way to eat this is with homemade hareesa or pickled jalapenos. Enjoy!

 

Makroona Béchamel

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

A pasta bake that has both a ground beef-tomato sauce and a béchamel sauce. You’ll love it!

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 lb ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon salt (add more, if needed)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon Libyan bzaar spice mix (if you don’t have any, use Arabic 7-spice and a pinch of turmeric)
  • 2 Tablespoons oregano or Italian seasoning
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 3/4 lb penne or elbow pasta
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 4 Tablespoons flour
  • 3 1/2 cups milk
  • salt, to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 3 eggs
  • handful of shredded cheese (optional)

Directions

  1. Bolognese-ish Sauce: In a large skillet/pan, sauté your diced onion until softened. Add the ground beef and brown it over medium heat and add in the minced garlic, salt, black pepper, paprika, cayenne (optional), bzaar and oregano/italian seasoning.
  2. Once the meat is browned, add the diced tomato and tomato paste. Stir it in well and add a little water (1/4 cup or so) if it seems dry. Allow this to cook over low heat as you work on the other parts of this dish. If you notice it drying out at any point, add a little water.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and boil a large pot of salted water for the pasta. Cook the pasta using the package directions.
  4. Béchamel Sauce: Start by melting butter over low heat in a medium saucepan. When the butter is melted, add the flour and continuously whisk over the low heat.
  5. Once it starts to slightly brown, slowly add about 1/2 cup of milk and whisk it until it is relatively smooth. Now pour in about another cup of milk while whisking and repeat until you have added all your milk and the sauce is relatively smooth. If your béchamel is very lumpy, you can use a stab mixer to blend it smooth or very careful mix in a blender. At this point, you can continue using a whisk or switch to a wooden spoon.
  6. Keep mixing the sauce as it starts to warm and thicken (you need to whisk/mix it every 30 seconds or so). After about 7-10 minutes (possibly a little longer too, be patient!), you should have a thick béchamel sauce. Once it is thick, you can add salt and pepper to taste. When the sauce sticks to a wooden spoon, you know it is ready and you should turn off the stove and remove the saucepan from the stove.
  7. Allow the béchamel to slightly cool (3-4 minutes), then whisk in two eggs. And back to your cooked and strained pasta! After the pasta has slightly cooled, pour it back into the pot you boiled it in and mix in an egg.
  8. Assembly: Pour half the pasta in a greased 9×13 baking dish or pan. Mix in the ground beef sauce (check the salt before you mix it in!) and smooth out the pasta layer. If you’d like (optional), sprinkle a little shredded cheese over this layer to help bind the bottom layer of pasta with the top layer. Even if you skip the cheese, you’ll be fine.
  9. Next, pour the other half of the pasta on top of the first layer. Gently spread it out. Finally, slowly pour the béchamel sauce over the pasta. I usually start at one corner and gently pour across longwise, then do the same across the middle and then onto the other side of the pan. Be sure to cover the entire surface. Place the baking dish in the center of the preheated oven.
  10. Allow the pasta to bake in the oven for 55-65 minutes; you will know it is ready when the top of the béchamel is browned.
  11. The pasta should be cooled for about 10 minutes before cutting and serving. When you cut the pasta, I suggest that you first run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the pasta from the sides of your baking dish.

 

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2 thoughts on “A Dreamy Pasta Bake – Makroona Béchamel

  1. I made a bechamel today but I added lemon and garlic! It was so lemony before I mixed it my zucchini noodles but then I barely tasted the lemon after! 😔

    Also, I never follow a recipe and put random amounts of butter and flour and I cook it on high! I’ll have to try more measured amounts and cooking it on low! I think I thicken it too much and then it just plops out of the pan into a glob but with enough liquidity to mix into my noodles! I have yet to master the silky creamy sauce!

    Like

    1. Mmm, zucchini noodles! Try adding lemon zest next time. I think the taste will stay even with the noodles mixed in. You are so brave to cook it on high, I’d be too afraid to burn it lol. I find low or medium to work best for me.

      Like

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