Béchamel: A creamy North African baked pasta
Named after the classic French white sauce, this baked pasta is creamy and decadent. Macaroni Béchamel is a fusion pasta that has its roots in Greece, but has become a staple dish in Libyan and Egyptian cuisine.
There are 3 parts to this pasta dish: cooked al dente pasta, a red meat sauce seasoned with warm spices and the creamy Béchamel sauce.
This variation of Béchamel has been adapted from my mother's recipe, with the main difference being how its meat sauce is seasoned- and my preference is season the sauce with Ras al Hanout.
The recipe is broken down by each component, starting with the meat sauce, then the Béchamel and then the pasta.
Oh and before I get into the recipe, I want to mention that I don't measure when I'm cooking. The recipes on this blog are meant to be guides and give you an idea of how to make a dish, but they are not exact. I learned to cook by watching my mother, and I've never followed a full recipe, instead I rely on my sense of smell and taste to guide me as I cook. So please use the following recipe as a guide, but adjust the quantities according to your preferences.
EVOO (for cooking)
1lb ground beef
1 medium onion
3-4 garlic cloves
1 TBSP tomato paste
1/2 cup frozen carrot/pea mix (about a handful)
1 TBSP MENASpice Ras al Hanout seasoning
1 tspn Cayenne pepper
3-4 TBSP butter
3 heaping TBSP APF
1 1/2 - 2 cups cold milk or alternative
1/2 tspn MENASpice Tunisian black pepper blend
1/2 tspn Ginger (or Galangal)
1/4 tsp Nutmeg (optional)
1 cup Elbow macaroni
Meat Sauce: On medium high heat sauté finally chopped onions in EVOO until softened. Add garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes. Add cayenne pepper and tomato paste, sauté 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook half way, breaking apart any large chunks. Season with Ras al Hanout, a pinch of salt and cover to simmer until done. The sauce should be thick and a little oily.
Béchamel: Prep this as the meat sauce cooks. On medium heat melt the butter, add the flour and whisk until fragrant and has a golden color. While whisking pour in the cold milk and let cook while continuously whisking. Once the sauce begins to thicken, season with ginger, Tunisian black pepper blend, nutmeg and salt to taste. Once thickened, remove from heat. See note
Pasta: Fill a big heavy bottom pot with water, salt it, and bring to a vigorous boil. Add the pasta and cook till al dente. Drain the pasta and don’t rinse it with water.
Assemble the dish: In a 9x9 baking dish, add a few spoonful's of Béchamel to the bottom of the pan and spread around. Add the pasta to the baking dish in an equal layer. Then pour the meat sauce onto the pasta, spreading the meat sauce and even out. Finally pour the remaining Béchamel sauce on top making sure to spread the sauce out evenly and into the corners of the baking dish.
Bake the dish: Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven uncovered for 40 minutes or until the Béchamel is nicely browned.
Let cool: Cool the baked pasta for 5 minutes before serving and enjoy with a fresh green salad on the side!
Its not a bad idea to make a little extra Béchamel as this sauce makes the dish. Also to help the pasta stick together, take a small amount of the Béchamel and mix it into the cooked pasta.