Because it is party season and many of you like to make this baked macaroni dish (a real crowd-pleaser, no doubt), I am updating this 2006 recipe with a few revisions and to include some step-by-step photos for making this cream cheese topping which is really what sets this baked macaroni apart from the rest.
Of course, it makes a lot of difference too if you start with a good sauce with which to toss the pasta before pouring on the topping. As a rule, when preparing a tomato-based meat sauce for pasta, I combine ground beef with something smoky like smoked belly bacon, salami, pepperoni or ham. It’s also good to throw in slices of fresh mushrooms. And, of course, the natural thickener for the sauce–lots of chopped onions, tomatoes and bell peppers.
- 225 g. of macaroni (you can use penne or ziti as well)
3 tbsps. of butter
3 tbsps. of olive oil
1/4 kg. of ground beef (sirloin, if you want minimal fat)
1/4 kg. of smoked ham or bacon, or salami or pepperoni (sliced as thinly as you can)
1/4 kg. of fresh button mushrooms, sliced
1 kg. of tomatoes, chopped
1/4 kg. of onions, chopped
4-5 green or red bell peppers (or 6-8 pimientoes), cored and chopped
1 whole garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 c. of good meat broth
a bunch of fresh basil leaves, chopped, or about a teasponful of dried basil leaves
3 sprigs of fresh oregano, stripped, or 1 tsp. if dried oregano leaves
For the topping :
1/3 c. of butter
1/3 c. of flour
about 3 c. of milk
half of a 225 g. block of
quickmelt (processed)sharp cheddar cheese, grated
half of a 225 g. block of cream cheese (thanks to reader Rowena for this tip), softened then cut into small pieces
- Cook the pasta according to package directions, undercooking by about 5 minutes. This will allow the pasta to finish cooking in the sauce, absorbing the flavors. Drain, rinse and set aside.
Heat the butter and olive oil together over medium-high heat in a sauce pan. Add the ground beef, breaking up the lumps. Add the garlic and cook until the meat starts to brown. Add the ham, bacon, salami or pepperoni. Stir and cook for a few minutes. Add all the chopped vegetables and herbs. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables start to soften. Pour in the meat broth. Season with salt, pepper and some sugar. The sugar will neutralize the acidity of the tomatoes. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
While the sauce simmers, prepare the cream-cheese topping.
Melt the butter in a saucepan.
When frothy, add the flour all at once, stirring. Let the flour cook for about 5 minutes to remove any floury taste in the cooked topping.
Usually, the flour is cooked when the mixture starts to turn golden brown.
Pour in the milk slowly, again, stirring as you pour. By the time all the milk has been incorporated into the mixture, it will appear to be a little thin.
Don’t worry, the cheeses will thicken them to the required consistency.
Add the cheeses.
Set the heat to low and let the cheeses melt, stirring the mixture occasionally.
Turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper.
Now, back to the meat sauce. When the sauce is done, add the cooked pasta and toss well. Let the mixture cook over low heat with an occasional stirring. This should allow the pasta to finish cooking. Usually, this step takes about 5-6 minutes.
Pour the pasta and sauce into a baking dish. Make sure that the dish is large enough so that the mixture is an inch below the rim. You will still be adding the topping. Everything will simmer and bubble during baking and you don’t want the sauce and topping falling onto the oven floor.
Pour the topping onto the pasta mixture, spreading to seal the edges. If you don’t seal the edges, the exposed pasta will dry up during baking.
Bake in a preheated 400F oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. How brown depends on you. A well-browned topping is more aromatic and attractive but, if there are leftovers, the topping does have a tendency to get overbrowned during reheating.
Let the baked macaroni rest for about 10 minutes before cutting. Serve with garlic sticks or buttered toast.
Cooking time (duration):about an hour
Number of servings (yield): 4 to 6
Meal type: lunch