It’s time for another pasta dish. Although I’ve cut down on the amount of pasta I eat, I still do love it and I have pasta at least once a week (maybe twice a week). Greeks enjoy pasta, the Spaniards, the French, Arabs, Turks and of course, Asians. Pasta also has a special place in Italian cuisine, we all know that. However, it would be silly to label every single pasta dish as being routed in Italian cuisine.
We all love our pasta, embrace it – love it and be happy that this staple is enjoyed by so many people. Pasta Diplomacy? Anyhow, allow me to introduce you to a Makaronopita: a baked pasta dish. There are many versions of baked pasta dishes, both Greek and non-Greek and usually a baked pasta recipe is made from leftover pasta. Remember, Greek cuisine is frugal and little goes to waste.
What makes this baked pasta recipe different is that it’s wrapped in slices of eggplant. What we’re doing here is making one big timbale: a tomato and meat sauce tossed in a hollow Greek pasta and some Bechamel for binding, grated cheese. The eggplant slices are the shell, wrapping this pasta parcel and holding everything together. Throw in the oven, allow to cool, unmold, slice and serve!
This dish is definitely eye candy and presentation piece for a dinner or a wonderful idea for a buffet. You could serve this on the same day that it’s made but these types of dishes always taste better the next day. I served the Makaronopita with a basic tomato sauce made of onion, garlic and some dried Greek oregano at the end. Like basil, tear some leaves off your plant in the herb garden and throw them in the sauce.
To make a Makaronopita, you’re going to need a mold: a bread loaf pan is what I used. You may go for a rectangular shape or try the round shape like mine. As for the eggplant, you may grill the slices of eggplant or bake them in the oven. Your goal is to simply soften them. They will continue to bake in the oven.
Some Makaronopitas include eggs as a binder (which) is fine but I opted for a Bechamel (sans eggs) to act as the glue to this pie and to retain some moisture the next day. This dish involves making a meat sauce, a tomato sauce, boiling some pasta, making some Bechamel and baking or grilling some eggplant slices.
A little involved? Yes, but it’s still easy, multi-taskers in the kitchen will pull off this dish quickly and you’ll get a smile when your guests smile when you present this to them at the dinner table. This recipe makes two small Makaranopitas, the mold being 6 inches in diameter (I like the small mould as it suits the length of your usual eggplant.
2 eggplants, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices
olive oil for brushing
1 cup grated Graviera cheese (or a firm Gruyere)
500 gr. package of Misko #5 pasta (or bucantini, hollow pasta)
Approx. 1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp. of unsalted butter
2 Heaping Tbsp. of all-purpose flour
2 cups of warm milk
salt and pepper to taste
1lb (1/2 kg) of lean ground beef
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 bay leaves
1/2 carrot, grated (optional, I use a carrot instead of sugar if my tomatoes are too acidic)
1 796 can of plum tomatoes, hand-crushed
1/3 cup dry white wine
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 tsp. of dried Greek oregano
pinch of ground cinnamon
Pre-heated 375F oven
- Pre-heat your oven. Wash your eggplants, cut off the stems and cut into 1/4 inch slices lengthwise. Brush both sides with olive oil, season lightly with salt. Place on a lightly greased baking pan and place in your pre-heated oven (rack third position from the top) and back for 6 minutes a side. Carefully remove from the tray and allow to cool on a paper-towel lined platter. Bake in batches (you may also grill your eggplant slices)
- In the meantime, place a skillet on your stove-top over medium heat and add your olive oil, garlic, grated carrot and bay leaves and saute for 4-7 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Add the ground beef, turn the heat up to high and stir constantly until the meat is browned. Add your wine and reduce the heat back to medium and reduce for 3-4 minutes. Now add the tomato sauce, bring back to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until you have a thick sauce. Take off the heat, remove the bay leaves, add the dried Greek oregano and a pinch of ground cinnamon. Adjust seasoning and reserve.
- Place a large pot of water on your stove-top and bring to a boil. Add a good amount of salt when the water boils, add your pasta and cook for about 8 minutes. Strain, toss in a little olive oil and reserve.
- In the meantime, place a medium pot on your stove-top over medium heat and add the butter. As soon as it melts, add the flour and stir for a minute with a wooden spoon. Now add the warm milk in 1/2 cup batches, stirring all along the way. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens to a creamy. Adjust seasoning with some salt and pepper and set aside (covered).
- Pre-heat your oven to 375F. To assemble your Makaronopitas, wipe the inside of your round molds with some olive oil and a light coating of breadcrumbs. Now line the inside of your moulds with the eggplant slices (tapered part of the eggplant in the mould and the widest end overhanging on the outside).
- In a large bowl, add the cooked pasta, Bechamel sauce, grated cheese and meat sauce and gently toss until well incorporated. Divide and fill the two moulds with the pasta mixture.
- Now flip the overhanging part of your eggplant slices over and towards the middle of your Makaronopitas in order to wrap the filling completely. Place in your pre-heated oven (middle rack for about 30-40 minutes or until the top is just golden. Allow to rest for at least another 30 minutes before unmolding.
- Place your serving platter on top of each Makaronopita and then quickly flip. Give the pies a couple of good shakes to release them from the molds.
- Place a ladle of Marinara sauce on each plate, place a wedge of Makaronopita on top and sprinkle some grated cheese on top.
- Serve with a an Alpha Estate red.
Note: You may make your own Marinara (tomato sauce) or try this one. Finish with fresh basil or dried Greek oregano.
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