If you live in the United States, you probably think of a dish filled with pasta in a cheesy bechamel sauce as good old mac and cheese. And when we say it's arguably the most delicious pasta dish on the planet, chances are that you agree. If you live in the Middle East, specifically in Egypt, you know this dish as macaroni bechamel and you also probably agree that it's the most delicious pasta dish on the planet.
The biggest difference between the two classic dishes is that the Egyptian version includes ground beef that has been browned and mixed with a tomato sauce. Then, instead of the cooked pasta being folded in with the cheese sauce, it's instead incorporated into the tomato sauce and the cheesy bechamel is baked on top similar to a Greek pastitsio. The result is a hearty, comforting dish with the goodness of beefy pasta on the bottom and creamy baked cheese sauce on top.
You can use any pasta you like but shapes like elbows, ziti or rigatoni are better for holding onto sauce and this dish is all about the sauce. You can also switch up the cheeses. Use other good melters like mozzarella or smoked Gouda and feel free to substitute Parmesan for the saltier romano. Serve this pasta dish with a side salad or some sauteed broccoli for an amazing dinner.
- 1 lb pasta (elbows ziti, or rigatoni)
- 2 26 oz. jars traditional pasta sauce
- 1 lb. lean ground beef or ground turkey
- 3 cups bechamel sauce (see recipe below)
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
- Cheesy Bechamel Sauce Recipe:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the stovetop for the pasta. While waiting for the water to boil, begin browning the ground beef or ground turkey in a large skillet or cast iron pan.
Add the pasta to the boiling water, reduce the heat to medium and cook according to package directions until just tender.
Add the butter and garlic to a separate skillet and cook for one minute, just until the garlic becomes fragrant. Be careful not to burn it or it will become bitter.
Whisk in the flour until it is coated with the butter and garlic. On low heat, slowly whisk in the milk until all the lumps are gone.
Stir in the shredded cheddar cheese and the grated pecorino romano. Continue cooking and stirring until the sauce begins to thicken. Season with the salt and pepper.
Once the beef is done browning, drain the excess fat from the pan and add the pasta sauce. Simmer on low heat. Drain the pasta and add it to the beef and pasta sauce mixture.Pour the meat sauce into a 9x12 oven safe casserole dish. Cover with the bechamel sauce and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes.Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving. Serve with a green salad or your favorite roasted vegetables.