October 1st will be Cyprus Independence Day and you should know by now that we love to celebrate the culture and cuisine of countries on 196 flavors, especially on their national holidays!
For the occasion, we are welcoming our newest culinary expert, Ivy Liacopoulou from kopiaste.org. Ivy is originally from Limassol in Cyprus, and she now lives in Asini, a Greek village in Peloponnese, near Nafplion. Ivy will now validate all our Cypriot recipes, including the star of today’s post: makaronia tou fournou. Read more about Ivy in the exclusive interview that she was kind enough to give to 196 flavors.
Pastitsio takes its name from the Italian pasticcio, traditional casserole dishes with pasta or pie crust, that can be made with meat, fish, or pasta. The Italian word pasticcio itself comes from Latin pastīcium which means “pie”. Over time, this word has taken other meanings such as “a mess”, “a tough situation”, or a pastiche, art imitating a style.
The main difference between makaronia tou fournou and pastitsio is two-fold: the addition of dry mint in the pasta and the meat/tomato sauce, and the use of halloumi, a traditional Cypriot cheese that is sprinkled on top of the dish to make a gratin. Also, pork is typically favored over beef, veal or lamb in makaronia tou fournou, although it is often made with a mixture of pork and beef or veal.
Halloumi cheese is a Cypriot semi-hard brined cheese traditionally made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk. Since it has a high melting point, it is often fried or grilled. It is indeed one of the two cheeses typically used in the famous Greek and Cypriot appetizer called saganaki, along with Greek cheese kefalotyri.
Makaronia tou fournou can also be made with dry anari cheese. Anari cheese is typically a soft perishable cheese that should be consumed soon after production, but in its dry form, it is often used grated in dishes such as our baked pasta dish.
There are other variations of makaronia tou fournou in the neighboring countries. In Egypt, it is known as macaroni béchamel and made with penne pasta. In Malta, it is called timpana and minced beef or corned beef is used as the meat. Hard-boiled eggs are sometimes added and it is often covered with enclosed in a pastry case.
This dish, along with moussaka and a few other Greek recipes, uses Bechamel sauce. It is interesting to note that Bechamel sauce was really introduced to Greek and Cypriot cuisines at the turn of the twentieth century by famous Greek chef Nikolaos Tselementes. It is also interesting to see that Greek Bechamel sauce differs from traditional French Bechamel sauce in that Greeks add egg yolks as well as cheese to the original sauce.
A few months ago, I met with my friends and fellow Los Angeles bloggers from the LA Food Bloggers group. During this meeting where we had fun painting some wood boards backdrops for our blog posts, I had the pleasure of meeting George Menzelos. George is the proud owner of Arianna Trading Company, a company that imports and distributes great organic Greek products to the United States, mostly in California where you can find them at Bristol Farms. George was kind enough to give us samples of his organic strained heirloom tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil, both sourced from Greece. Those products had been sitting on my shelves for the past few weeks, waiting for the best opportunity to use them, and what better time to use them than when you cook a traditional Cypriot dish like makaronia tou fournou. Thank you George!
My father and brother are visiting us from Paris this month, the occasion for me to show off my cooking skills. I made makaronia tou fournou last Friday for dinner. Everyone loved it except for the fact that the mint was a little overpowering and that they are not used to this flavor in oven-baked pasta dishes. I actually adjusted the mint ratios to reflect this feedback, but feel free to add more if you like this flavor as much as I do. I also have to agree with Ivy in the sense that this dish is even better as a leftover, like most casserole dishes.
- 500 g tubular pasta (ideally bucatini or any tube-shaped pasta like rigatoni)
- ½ cup grated halloumi cheese (or dry anari)
- 1 tablespoon dried mint
- 1 egg white
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 lb ground pork (or a mix of pork and beef or veal)
- 1 onion , finely chopped
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 cups tomato puree
- 1 bunch parsley , finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon dried mint
- Black pepper
- 6 cups milk
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup flour
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 3 egg yolks
- ⅓ cup grated halloumi cheese (or dried anari)
- In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil and add salt.
- Cook the pasta al dente according to the package instructions, for about 10 minutes, as they will be cooked later on.
- Remove from the heat, drain and mix a tablespoon olive oil.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan and sauté the onion until translucent.
- Add the ground meat and sauté for a few minutes.
- While mixing, add salt, pepper, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and tomatoes and cook over moderate heat for about 15 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and mix in parsley.
- Béchamel sauce
- Heat the milk prior to preparing the sauce.
- Beat the egg yolks separately.
- In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour, salt and nutmeg and whisk thoroughly for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the warm milk, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick and creamy.
- Add the egg yolks slowly and mix until they are incorporated.
- Stir in grated halloumi cheese and set aside.
- Beat the egg white, reserved from the Béchamel sauce, and mix with the pasta as well as ¼ cup of the grated halloumi and the dried mint.
- In a baking pan (about 13x9 inches), layer half of the pasta.
- Put the ground meat on top and then add the remaining pasta on top.
- Cover pasta with the Béchamel sauce and sprinkle with 1/4 cup of grated halloumi and ½ teaspoon of cinnamon.
- Bake in an oven preheated to 350 F, for about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until golden on top.