Finally! We got weather that really said “It’s winter!!!” And there’s almost nothing that I like better when it’s really cold outside, than a good baked pasta dish. The Greeks have a good one, pastitsio, that is among my favorites.
Recently I made this for a group of friends. Earlier in the day I peeled and seeded cucumbers, sliced red onion very thinly and cut up a couple of tomatoes that looked surprisingly appealing for winter tomatoes. I covered them with a vinaigrette made of red wine vinegar, olive oil and dried oregano and left them sitting on the kitchen counter. When I would think about it, I gave them a little toss. By dinnertime they were ready to put on top of a bed of lettuce for a salad that made a perfect complement to the pasta.
I want to encourage you to make the sauce at least a day ahead and refrigerate it, so the fat can be taken off the top once it is cold. If that’s not possible, just skim off as much fat as you can once the sauce is done.
If you are one of those people who think they don’t like lamb, I would like to encourage you to try this. If you are absolutely sure you don’t like lamb, you can use lean ground beef instead. Either way, it will make you feel warm and toasty when the weather outside is not!
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 large cloves garlic
1 lb ground lamb
1 tsp each oregano, cinnamon, and ground cumin
1/2 tsp each ground ginger and ground coriander
2 bay leaves
1 cup dry red wine
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cans Italian herb diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flour
4 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
1 cup parmesan, freshly grated
1 lb rigatoni
Make the sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and cook the onion and garlic until soft and translucent. Add the lamb and cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is cooked through and crumbly. Stir in the herbs and spices and cook, stirring, another 5 minutes. Dissolve the tomato paste in the wine and add with the tomatoes. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook until thickened, another 30 minutes or so. Cool, cover and refrigerate.
Preheat your oven to 350. Cook the pasta according to package directions until just barely tender. Drain well.
Meanwhile make the topping: In a saucepan, cook the garlic in the butter over very low heat for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. Don’t let it brown. Slowly whisk in the milk, Stir in the salt and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, whisking to avoid lumps, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in one cup of the grated cheese.
Warm the lamb sauce gently. Separate two of the eggs. Whisk the whites until frothy and stir into the lamb sauce. Toss with the cooked pasta. Pour into a four-quart baking dish.
Add the remaining two eggs to the two yolks and whisk to blend well. Stir into the topping. Pour evenly over the pasta and sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese over the top. Bake in the middle of the oven until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Let cool about 15 minutes before serving. Serves 8 very generously.