Mum’s baked pasta

 What some of you may not know is the fact that unlike many foodies out there who started their love relationship with cooking or baking early on, yours truly was a late bloomer. You see, studying dentistry leaves you little time for  other activities. Despite the fact that my mum is a really talented cook and baker, I learnt next to nothing from her (something I came to deeply regret later).Part of it was the fact that I had little time to spare with all the studying I had to do and another part was the fact that my mum cooks (and bakes!)without measurements. She can double a recipe or half it and get it perfect almost every time without the help of measurements. Impressive? sure! Easy to learn from? No.

Sure I occasionally helped mum with a cake here or some cookies there but I never made anything alone from A to Z. As for cooking, I only helped with the prep work, things like chopping vegetables and stirring soup lol. You may not believe it but the first meal I cooked whole from scratch was the meal I prepared for my husband a couple of weeks after our wedding!That was a few months short of eight years ago.

 It was a long process and it wasn’t  easy. I can’t remember the number of times I tossed out dough that didn’t rise or cakes that rose only to fall again. Nor do I want to remember the number of disasters, burnt, under or over cooked meals I made over those 8 years. 

Now after 9 months of blogging I realized that not only do I want to document my own recipes and food related adventures but this blog could actually be the motive and the chance for me to learn and document some of my mum’s amazing recipes. Recipes like today’s baked pasta  that I have yet to find someone who tried it and didn’t ask for the recipe after the first couple of bites.I have already shared my mum’s awwameh and her orange bar cookies if you like them then stay tuned there will be more to come .

I hope you will enjoy this part of my cooking journey as much as I am enjoying it. Sure the fact that mum does not measure and keeps tweaking and changing the recipe every few months is driving me mad but that is part of the fun, isn’t it?

Today’s baked pasta recipe is one of my mum’s signature dishes. The original recipe came from an Egyptian friend mum met while dad was working abroad but mum changed and added so much to recipe (and she is still adding and changing lol) that I think the recipe I am sharing today would probably have little to do with that original.

 The secret to this baked pasta recipe is the sauce. It is a modified bechamel sauce that takes the recipe to the next level. Not only is it pink as opposed to the traditional white but also it is so rich and full of flavor that you will want to eat it with a spoon

Mum’s Baked Pasta

500 grams pasta

300- 500 grams minced meat (depending on how thick you want the meat layer to be)

1 medium onion

olive oil

a dash of pepper

dash of paprika

dash of cinnamon

dash of  cardamom

dash of cumin

For the pink bechamel

4 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons butter (you can use olive oil or a mixture of oil and butter )

4 cups of milk

1/4- 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

salt to taste

3 tablespoons of cheese (you can use any, all or a combination of mozzarella, parmesan, cheddar, cream cheese)

2 eggs beaten

3 tablespoons bread crumbs

3 teaspoons tomato paste

Cook the pasta to a minute or two less than the manufacturer instructions, drain, rinse in cold water set aside.

Saute the onion in the olive oil until it softens

Add the meat and spices and stir occasionally until the meat fluids are cooked away . Take off the heat.

Prepare the béchamel

Heat oil or butter in a pot

 Add the flour and stir until the color begins to change(you don’t want it to go dark or else it will affect the final color of the bechamel sauce)

Lower the heat

 Add the milk gradually  while whisking .(you need to whisk until you have added all the milk to prevent lumps from forming)

Keep stirring until the béchamel thickens

Add the cream and the cheese mixture and stir for two minutes

Allow the bechamel to cool for 10 -15 minutes

In a bowl add a little of the bechamel to the beaten eggs, mix well.

Add the egg mixture to the bechamel and stir well

Add the bread crumbs and the tomato paste and stir until homogenous

Assemble the pasta

In a baking dish add a layer of Bechamel

Then add half the pasta.

top the pasta with a layer of bechamel then add the meat layer

Add the rest of the pasta and spread the rest of the bechamel sauce on top.

Bake in a 180 C oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Place under the broiler until the top is golden brown (1-2 minutes)