Girls and Spicy Baked Pasta

I celebrated my semi freedom by making a simple baked pasta for my girls since we had a mini post exams celebration with an arts and craft session. We’ve been friends for so long (nearly a decade!) but our hidden talents only surfaced as of late when we’re more relaxed and not so consumed with studying for exams. Our talents are such a surprise to each of us – painting, sewing, scrapbooking, and glass painting. We couldn’t take much pictures, though. Well, considering that we stayed up till 1am talking and crafting our handiwork.

I have always loved baked pasta, and upon discovering how easy it is to make it yourself, I stopped ordering baked pasta whenever I’m at restaurants. Hmm. Actually, I stopped ordering a lot of things when I learned how to cook. Knowing that I can replicate a dish so much better than a purchased one makes me think twice about my food orders. This baked pasta, as with my other béchamel sauced dishes, is a special one. I add a little secret ingredient that offsets the creaminess and richness of the cheese sauce.

Garlic. That’s my secret ingredient. My mum loves cheese, but too much cheese makes her puke. She can never finish an entire piece of baked pasta or lasagna if she bought them outside. Since I started adding garlic to my white sauce, she took second helpings. And I truly enjoy seeing her eat. She a strong Malay taste for things. Making her eat Italian food took some coaxing, but I’m glad she’s loving it now.

I saw my friend posting a picture of her baked pasta on Instagram, and suddenly I got a huge craving for it. Googled some recipe check and settled for a combination of recipes. Pardon my instructions, cooking is a difficult skill to teach because some things cannot be conveyed in words. I’d rather teach you all to make this live, or over the telephone, but hey, this will do.

Ingredients for red sauce:

1 packet of large shell pasta (500g)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 big red onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

500g ground meat (I substituted with sliced sausages)

2 cans of diced tomatoes (400g)

1 cube of beef/chicken stock (I used beef)

2 teaspoons of dried oregano

2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for béchamel sauce:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons plain flour

2 garlic cloves

1 litre full cream milk (DO NOT SUBSTITUTE WITH LOW FAT)

200g cheddar cheese, grated

150g mozzarella cheese, grated

salt and pepper to taste

For the topping:

200g grated cheddar

150g grated mozzarella

Bacon or pepperoni slices

50g Parmesan

Method:

  1. Heat oven to 200 degrees centigrade.
  2. In a medium sized pot, heat olive oil, add chopped onions and saute till fragrant, before adding garlic.
  3. Add in meat, and cook till browned. Add in chopped tomatoes, stock, oregano and cayenne pepper. Cover the pot and allow the sauce to thicken for about 20-30 minutes. Add in salt and pepper to taste, then turn off heat. Set aside.
  4. Cook pasta according to instructions on package.
  5. In another pot, melt butter, and add in garlic, saute till fragrant. Add in flour and quickly whisk the mixture till a thick batter forms.
  6. Add in milk, stirring or whisking constantly. Add in both cheese, and stir until the cheese has melted. Once cheese has melted and a thick white sauce is formed, turn off the heat and set aside. (Note: Important that the bechamel sauce is removed from the heat)
  7. Drain pasta and put into a casserole dish or pyrex. Stir in red sauce, and coat all of the pasta. Pour bechamel sauce onto the pasta and red sauce mixture. Do not stir in the bechamel sauce. Leave the sauce to seep into the nook and crannies of the pasta.
  8. Level the top and spread remaining cheese and pepperoni slices as the topping. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until cheese on top has melted.
  9. Serve!
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