Wednesday, 16 November 2011


Baked pasta dishes are perfect as the weather turns colder and the nights draw in. They are also a cinch to make, and very versatile too; from the good old student standards of tuna or sausages to ragu, chicken, spicy pork, veg and even leftover chili or stew. Just mix through some cooked pasta, top with breadcrumbs and/or cheese and stick it in the oven until golden and bubbling.

When I've got a little more time to spend in the kitchen (and can face the extra pans to wash up) nothing can beat a bake with a thick layer of creamy bechamel laying on toplike a big edible duvet. This version is the Greek twist on the Italian classic pasticcio di pasta, or lasagne al forno. As well as using hollow noodles, or bucatini, instead of flat sheets of pasta (making for an impressive looking cut through in the finished dish), the dish shows its Hellinic influence with the use of cinnamon and nutmeg to spice the ragu, and a good amount of Greek oregano.  Ground lamb can also be used instead of beef. 

Although it may take a few pots and pans, and a little bit of stirring, it's a very simple dish that's well worth the effort.  Perfect for entertaining big crowds or lazy winter nights in front of the telly. It's also a good idea to make more than needed, any leftovers will reheat very well, and it seems to taste even better over the next few days.

Meat sauce
500g minced beef or lamb
Olive oil
2 medium onions finely chopped
2 clove of garlic finely chopped
1 tin of tomatoes
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 tsp oregano
Grating of nutmeg

Bechamel sauce
50g butter
50g flour
500ml milk
125g ricotta (optional)
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
400g long macaroni/bucatini
Olive oil
100g Kefalotiri or Pecorino cheese, grated

Fry the mince in a casserole until browned, drain and set aside.
Add a little oil to the casserole and gently cook the onions and garlic until soft.  Add the tomatoes, cinnamon, oregano, salt, pepper, browned meat and half a cup of water.  Cover the pot and simmer gently for about an hour an a half.
Meanwhile make the bechamel sauce.  Make a roux by melting the butter in a pan, adding the flour and gently cooking out for a few minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking thoroughly to prevent lumps and stir until thickened.  Add nutmeg, salt, pepper and ricotta, if using.  Set aside.
When the meat sauce is nearly ready preheat the oven to 180c and cook the pasta until just al dente.
Drain and add a little olive oil to stop it sticking.
Layer an ovenproof dish with a layer of pasta, followed by a layer of ragu and then another layer of pasta.  Finish with the becahamel sauce, the grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes until the top is crispy and golden and it is hot throughout.
Serve with a green salad and crusty bread.
It can also be made in advance, up to the final browning and reheating, and kept refrigerated for a couple of days until needed.  Heat in the oven for a little longer, (45-60 mins) and check the middle is piping hot before serving.

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