Monday, September 13, 2010

Baked Pasta with Bechamel Sauce


This rich pasta recipe is originally from Giada De Laurentiis, one of my favorite chefs, with a few adjustments of my own, and what I call "my kind of macaroni and cheese". You can really taste the goodness of bechamel sauce in this dish. It is always full-proof and so soul-satisfying, the only problem you will have is to resist another serving.

Ingredients: (Serves 8)
  • 1/2 pound ground beef (preferably 80/20)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups of whole milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 pound dry short cut pasta
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper

Directions:
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Heat 1 tbsp. vegetable oil in a skillet. Add diced onion and ground beef. Breaking up the ground beef and mixing it with diced onion, saute until onion is translucent and ground beef is no longer pink over medium-high heat. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  • In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Always stirring, gradually add the milk and continue to whisk until the sauce is smooth and creamy. Simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in nutmeg, 1/2 cup parmesan, black pepper and salt (I personally add 1 teaspoon salt). Set aside.
  • In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for about 5 minutes. (The pasta will cook further in the oven in the bechamel sauce.) Drain the pasta in a colander and return to the pot. Add the sauteed ground beef and pour in the bechamel sauce and mix well until all the pasta and the beef are coated with the sauce.
  • Pour the pasta into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Smooth out the top and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup parmesan. Bake in oven for 25 minutes, until bubbling and the top is golden brown.

Additional points:
  • You can use any type of short cut pasta for this dish, but I find that penne works the best.
  • You can definitely substitute whole milk with 2% or 1% milk, they work just as well (not skim milk, though, you need some fat!).
  • I use ground beef sauteed with onion, since where I come from this was a staple of the cuisine, but you can use any kind of meat or deli meat. Making this dish with only beef or chicken flavored sauce does not cut it for me, you need the flavor and the bite of real meat.
  • Never skip nutmeg when making bechamel sauce, nutmeg is what makes this sauce even more special.

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