Macarona Béchamel/Forn: The dish that bridges three cultures

This Egyptian pasta bake is as cosmopolitan as it gets.

Egyptian Macarona Béchamel (aka Macarona Forn) is a pasta bake that is simply a cross between the Greek Pastitisio and Italian Lasagna.

This decadent pasta dish has three layers:  cooked al dente penne, then a layer of luscious red meat-tomato sauce, spiked with warm spices, and finally a layer of creamy and silky béchamel.

This fusion dish was the product of sheer diversity in Egypt. It was organically created by local Egyptians, Italians, and Greek expats who lived and thrived in Egypt until the mid of the 20th century, thanks to quite a tolerant royal regime, back then.

Things drastically changed when the military coup occurred in Egypt in 1952.  The new republic regime decided to nationalize foreign companies and confiscate the properties of many individual expats, the fact that prompted the exodus of foreigners, leaving behind indelible traces of a bygone cosmopolitan era.

By far, this popular Egyptian pasta bake, in specific, is one revered influence. Believe it or not, the mastery of this dish made some marriages happen, as young women used to be judged upon their mastery of it.

Over the course of my life in Egypt, one of the best pasta bakes I personally had, was the one made by our beloved late neighbor Tante Adria.

Tante Adria was an exceptional refined older Egyptian lady, who we cherished as neighbor for over 25 years. When we first met, she and her decent, courteous husband Uncle Youssef were empty nesters, as all her kids were married and living in North America.

They were a lovely couple who enjoyed their life to the maximum, and never agonized over the fact of having their kids living on a different continent. Tante Adria was a perfectionist cook who nailed whatever she served her guests.  Her apple pie, Kibbeh Manfoukha, and Makarona Béchamel/Forn or pasta bake will forever dent my food memories.

Thanks to today’s unprecedented connectivity of the word, I was able to stay in touch with her wonderful daughter— Ms. Mary Rizkalah who shares with us today her mom’s recipe of Pasta Bake.

It is my absolute pleasure to Welcome Ms. Rizkalla at Chez Nermine. Scroll down to learn more about her and her mother’s iconic recipe.

For more easy-to-follow recipes inspired by my Egyptian cuisine, follow my Instagram account @cheznermine. 

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Ms. Mary Rizkalla, Egyptian-American Living in NC

Hi, I am Mary, growing up in Alexandria, Egypt I fondly remember my mother’s Macarona Béchamel/Forn.

Following my graduation from Alexandria University, where I specialized in social work, I left Egypt in 1972 with my husband who was studying engineering at North Carolina State University.

After my husband graduated, we moved to Canada and there I decided to switch my career into banking.

I studied again and obtained degrees and certifications which allowed me to work in the banking industry for 25 years. In 2000, we moved back to North Carolina where I resumed my career in lending and investment banking .

In 2013, I decided to retire to enjoy traveling and spending more time with my five adorable grandchildren.

My husband, my daughters, their husbands, and my grand kids do enjoy our repertoire of traditional Egyptian recipes. This is how and why we sustained our Egyptian food heritage as a family.

I learned all my Egyptian recipes from my mom who was a phenomenal home cook. Also, my two professional girls cook Egyptian food for their young families .

Makarona Béchamel/Forn is a dish that brings back warm and priceless memories of meal time in my parents’ house.

This dish is a one pot dish and a well-rounded meal that incorporates, carbs, protein and dairy products. All you need is a salad to go along.


Macaroni Béchamel (aka Macarono Forn)

Recipe credit: Ms. Mary Rizkalla

Serves 6 to 8 people

INGREDIENTS

The pasta:

  • 1 box/package penne pasta (16 ounces)
  • Water, enough to cover the pasta
  • Salt

 The meat sauce:

  • 1 pound (500 grams) ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 cup of tomato sauce/juice
  • 2 teaspoons of meat spices
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The Béchamel sauce (white sauce)

  • 4 cups milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup of mozzarella and/or parmesan cheese (optional)
  • 1 egg (to brush the surface of the pasta bake)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Make the pasta. Fill a big heavy bottom pot with water, salt it, and bring it to a vigorous boil.  Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook it al dente (check package instructions). Drain the pasta and don’t rinse it with water. Set aside. See notes
  2. Make the Béchamel Sauce.  Melt the butter, add the flour and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until it resembles a golden paste. Add warm milk and continue stirring until the sauce begins to thicken. See notes.
  3. Make the meat sauce. Sauté the minced onion in a pan, until it sweats. Add the ground beef, and season with spices. Let the meat sauce simmer until it is browned and most of the water has evaporated. If there is too much fat in the pan, drain the fat before you add the tomato sauce. Stir in a cup of tomato sauce/juice and tomato paste and mix well until the sauce is totally blended with the meat. Let the sauce simmer until it thickens. See notes.
  4. Preheat the oven at 375 °F.
  5. Assemble the dish. Butter a 13×9 baking dish. Scoop a quarter of the béchamel sauce and mix it with the penne and then add it to the baking dish as the first layer. Add the meat sauce as the second layer, even it out, and then add the third layer which is the white/béchamel sauce. Spread it evenly with an offset spatula. For a tanned surface, add a beaten egg with a drop of vanilla. See notes 
  6. Bake the pasta in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until the surface is brown.
  7. Serve hot, next to a fresh, green salad.
  8. Store in the fridge up to two days. You can also freeze the dish assembled but not baked in the freezer up to three weeks. See notes.
  9. Enjoy!
NERMINE'S NOTES
  • Cook the pasta al dente and avoid overcooking it, so it doesn’t collapse and disintegrate when it is baked in the oven.
  • Before starting the white sauce, I like to infuse the milk first with bay leaves, a half onion, a couple of whole cloves, a pinch of cinnamon, and a dash of nutmeg.
  • For a lump-free white sauce, use warm milk and not cold. Warm milk tends to blend in better and faster to make a smooth white sauce.
  • I find that a mix of ground beef and lamb instead of beef alone, is a good variation of this pasta bake.
  • Avoid a watery meat sauce. It shouldn’t be dry either. A luscious meat sauce is thick and full of flavors.
  • For a tanned surface, you can omit the addition of the beaten egg and add some grated mozzarella and/or parmesan.
  • If you plan on freezing the pasta bake, don’t add the beaten egg to the surface. Add the egg right before baking it.
  • For a gluten-free recipe, swap in corn flour for flour and gluten-free pasta.

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Former diplomat | Travel & Food Writer | Stauch advocate of Culinary Diplomacy. Find more here: https://cheznermine.com/about/

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