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Pasta Bake – this is a meal that will make the whole family happy – the one that is most requested by my grandkids.

A deliciously versatile 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.  

TOP TIP You can expand what bolognese sauce you have by adding a can of crushed tomatoes or some fresh cherry tomatoes. Mushrooms are good too.

You will probably realize that these are the same ingredients for a traditional lasagne – this is just a bit quicker and easier to prepare.

You will need three things:  A portion of bolognese sauce, some kind of tube pasta (I use penne) and my NO COOK fake bechamel sauce – which I learned from Greek cooking. It’s just as delicious as the real thing and no one – except me – knows the difference. I had a ringing endorsement from my neighbour, cook and food writer extraordinaire, Belinda Jeffery, when I cooked this for her last week – she had two helpings!


There must be as many recipes for bolognese sauce as there are Italians, but this is mine.

BOLOGNESE SAUCE

  • 500g good quality minced beef (I actually prefer a mixture of pork and beef)
  • 1 large brown onion, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 stick celery, chopped finely
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 400g can chopped Italian tomatoes
  • 1 720 ml jar passata (pureed tomato)
  • 2 bay leaves and one sprig fresh thyme. If I have fresh marjoram, I use that.
  • 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

TOP TIP To save chopping time, put the celery, carrots and garlic into a food processor and pulse. This helps for making a thicker sauce too. Don’t be tempted to pulse the onion too – you need that to be sliced finely to cook properly in the olive oil first.

METHOD

  • 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.
  • Now add the mince until just turning colour – it doesnt need to be brown. It actually makes for a better sauce not to brown it – I have learned – otherwise it can be tough.
  • Add the remainder of the oil and then celery, carrot, tomatoes, passata, garlic, herbs, wine and salt and pepper.
  • Simmer slowly for at least 11/2 hours – the oil should rise to the surface when it is cooked properly. 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.

PASTA

  • 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!

MY FAKE BECHAMEL This actually makes for a lighter topping, because it is not using a traditional roux base that is made from flour and butter – and, even better, there is no cooking involved.

  • ! cup cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 dessertspoon rice flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • White pepper and salt


ASSEMBLING THE PASTA BAKE

  • Stir the bolognese sauce through the cooked pasta.
  • Whisk together the milk, cream, rice flour and eggs in separate bowl with half the cheese.
  • Pour over the pasta bolognese mix.
  • Sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese and top with freshly grated nutmeg.
  • Cook in the conventional oven for 20 mins on 180oC. You may need to turn up to 200oC at the end to brown the top.

TOP TIP TOO I have a few ‘fake’ dishes – what busy and thrifty cook doesn’t?. Here’s one – turn one of the portions of bolognese sauce, that you stashed away in the freezer, into EASY NACHOS TOPPING by adding a can of kidney beans, some ground cumin and chilli. There’s never any complaints.

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