Pasta Bake – this is a meal that will make the whole family happy. I actually can’t think of anyone that doesn’t like pasta and this is a dish that you can expand if you suddenly find yourself not two for dinner, but six – this happens to me quite often! I usually have some bolognese sauce in the freezer and you only need a portion for two to make a dish that will feed six to eight. You will probably realize that these are the same ingredients for a traditional lasagne – this is just a bit quicker and easier to prepare.
I am currently in Sydney for the birth of grandchild number seven – a beautiful brother for two year old Taj and, of course, grandma is on cooking duties. It’s not always easy to find dishes that please the whole family but this is certainly one that is often requested – from tiny children to big people.
You will need three things: A portion of bolognese sauce, some kind of tube pasta (I use penne) and some béchamel sauce. There must be as many recipes for bolognese sauce as there are Italians, but this is mine.
500 g good quality minced beef (I actually prefer a mixture of pork and veal, but it’s not always available,
so beef will do).
1 large brown onion, peeled and chopped finely
1 stick celery, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 400 g can chopped Italian tomatoes
1 720 ml jar passata (pureed tomato)
2 bay leaves and one sprig fresh thyme
1 glass red wine (don’t worry about giving alcohol to children as it cooks off – its just for flavour and colour)
3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Seal salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Heat half the oil in a heavy bottomed, wide saucepan or casserole dish.
- NOTE: This may seem like a lot of oil, but this is one of the keys to success of making a good bolognese. It makes the sauce luxuriously thick that nicely coats any pasta.
- Cook the onion until just turning colour, remove from the pan.
- Now brown the mince until the juices have come out and then evaporated.
- Add the remainder of the oil and then celery, tomatoes, passata, garlic, herbs, wine and salt and pepper.
- Simmer slowly for at least 11/2 hours – the oil should rise to the surface. Give it a stir, every now and again, to prevent it sticking.
- NOTE: If you need to go out, you can cook it in the oven like a casserole – it actually takes on a richer flavour.
- NOTE: This makes 3-4 portions for meals serving 2 people. You will need one portion for the next step in this recipe and you can put the rest in the freezer for another day.
- Heat your oven to 180oC
- Bring enough salted water to the boil to adequately cover the amount of pasta you need to cook – this will depend on how many people are coming to dinner.
- Cook the pasta until al dente – chewy, but not sloppy. Use a large saucepan or casserole dish that you can transfer to the oven – I’m saving you washing up here!
50 g butter, melted in a saucepan – be careful not to let it burn
1 tbs plain flour
500 ml fresh milk
salt and white peppper
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- Add the flour to the melted butter and stir on a low heat until it makes one clump – this is called a roux.
- Take off the heat and whisk the milk into the roux.
- Return to the heat and cook until it thickens – should coat the back of your wooden spoon.
- Add the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.
ASSEMBLING THE PASTA BAKE
- Stir the bolognese sauce through the cooked pasta.
- NOTE: If you want it to even further add any of the following: another can of tomatoes, sliced mushrooms or pre-cooked grilled peppers.
- Pour the bechamel sauce over the top
- Sprinkle with parmesan cheese
- Cook in the conventional oven for 15-20 mins on 180oC then turn to grill part of oven to ‘golden’ the top for 5 minutes.