Food for a Crowd (creamy pasta bake)

Pasta bake

There has not been enough food in my life lately. No, scratch that. There have been mountains of food. Lots of bread, pasta, meat, sauces. Mostly not cooked by me. Or cooked by me without the care I want to put into food. I was chopping, frying, roasting, boiling to get something into our bellies, not to make meals.

I was not amused.

There were reasons. Of course there were. And there were some good meals (a steak salad, mushroom risotto). But not enough. And now I am sitting on my couch on a Monday afternoon, feeling not very well at all. I am sensing a connection. Therefore, off to the market I will go, for a bunch of kale. For soup. Or salad. Or stewing. I will decide once I have finished my tea and taken a nap.

Ooh, and after I tell you about one of the few things I did cook over the past weeks: Nigella Lawson’s Baked veal and ham pasta. It is a little on the bland side to fall into the mmm-mmm-mmm category, but it is tasty enough, will feed a crowd and can be made ahead. Who doesn’t need a recipe like that up their sleeve?

The original recipe has pancetta, but with a halal eater in my group, I left it out. To get a bit of  smoky flavour without the pork, I added about half a teaspoon of smoked paprika. Not bad at all. Also, I added very mature Gouda to the sauce instead of parmesan. I don’t like shredding big blocks of parmesan, the cheese shop ran a special on grated Gouda. Nuff said. Finally, I don’t know where to buy Marsala, so I left it out.

Pasta bake with veal

serves 8

  • 500 gr pasta (a not-too-small shape like conchiglie works well)
  • 400 gr minced veal
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1 onion
  • couple of pinches of ground mace (foelie, in Dutch)
  • ¼ tsp mild paprika
  • ½ tsp smoked spicy paprika (or 75 gr pancetta/bacon/similar)
  • olive oil for frying
  • 100 gr butter
  • 100 gr flour
  • 1,2 lmilk
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 100 gr shredded matureGouda
  • parmesan for grating over the top

This dish has three basic components: pasta, white sauce and a meat/vegetable mixture. Here’s what you do for each:

Pasta: boil in a large pot of water until just al dente. Drain, toss with a little olive oil to prevent sticking, set aside.

Meat/vegetable mixture: Peel the onion, carrot and celery. Chop into large chunks and toss into a food processor (also add the pancetta if you’re using it). Process until fine. Heat a glug of olive oil in a pan large enough to hold the vegetables plus the meat comfortably. Mix in the two kinds of paprika and a pinch of ground mace. When the oil is hot, add the vegetables, and fry for a minute or so. Add 3 tbsp of water, and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes or so, stirring a few times to ensure even heating. When the vegetables have softened, increase the heat, add the meat to the pan and stir-fry for about a minute. Mix the meat and vegetables thoroughly, lower the heat again and simmer for 15 more minutes, stirring once every so often. While that is going, start the white sauce.

(This is also the time to pre-heat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius if you are cooking and serving on the same day. Then on with the white sauce.)

White sauce: Melt the butter in a large pan with a thick bottom. When melted, add the flour and a pinch of ground mace. Mix until the butter and flour form a homogenous paste, and cook for three minutes or so (be careful not to let it burn, but a bit of browning is fine). Take the pan off the heat and slowly pour in the milk, whisking as you go. When you have added all the milk and have whisked away any clumps, put the pan back on the stove. Add the bay leaves and heat until boiling. Then lower the fire and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly. After about 20 minutes, the sauce should have thickened and lost its raw taste. If not, cook a bit longer. You want the sauce to be relatively thin, so add more milk if need be. When the sauce is cooked, take it off the heat and stir in the grated Gouda until melted.

By the time your white sauce is finished, your meat and vegetable mixture should also be done, while your cooked pasta is waiting for you. Take a large oven dish (that can hold all the pasta, plus the meat/vegetables and the sauce; use two if you don’t have one that big), and spread about two thirds of the white sauce over the bottom (fishing out bay leaves as you go). Dump in the pasta, and mix until all pasta is covered in a film of sauce. Add the meat/vegetables and mix thoroughly. Spread the mixture evenly over the dish, and top with the remaining white sauce.

You can now cool the dish, cover it and keep it in the fridge for a couple of days, or just keep going if you want to serve people today.

When you are ready to bake, make sure the pasta is at room temperature or warmer (I think an hour out of the fridge should get it there, but can’t be sure as I haven’t actually tried this). Grate a generous amount of parmesan over the top, and bake at 190 degrees Celsius for about 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Take it out of the oven, leave for about 10 minutes and serve.


1 Comment

Filed under Meat, Pasta and rice

One response to “Food for a Crowd (creamy pasta bake)

  1. Pingback: Pizza, naturally | Shoebox Cooking

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