Macarona bechamel is a pasta bake made with creamy homemade bechamel, delicious meat sauce and penne pasta. It’s a classic in Middle Eastern households, and it’s the ultimate in baked pasta. You’ll love this!
What is Macarona Bechamel?
There are versions of this all around the Mediterranean, like Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, as well as in the Middle East. It’s especially common in Egypt, so Egyptian macarona bechamel is a real thing that they take a lot of pride in!
The hallmark of this delicious baked pasta dish is pasta layered with a creamy homemade bechamel sauce and topped with saucy ground beef. The top is then baked until golden brown and bubbly, and cheese is sometimes added. Penne pasta or a similar type of pasta is usually used.
Why should I make this recipe?
This is a straightforward recipe that has a few steps, but feeds a crowd and completely worth any effort
It’s delicious! The spiced and saucy meat sauce contrasts perfectly with the creamy smooth bechamel. The bechamel and cheese broil in the oven for a crisp golden brown topping. It’s so good!
Utter comfort food, this dish tastes great the next day and freezes so well. Kids and adults alone will love this!
What ingredients do I need to make macarona bechamel?
You have a few different parts to this recipe:
For the meat sauce:
To cook the beef: ground beef, vegetable oil for sauteeing, diced onion and minced garlic, all spice or seven spices, ground cinnamon, as well as salt and pepper for seasoning.
For the tomato sauce: a can of tomato sauce, tomato paste (plenty! it gives such a great rich flavor), garlic powder, Italian seasoning or a mix of dried basil and dried oregano, a pinch of brown sugar for sweetness, and water.
For the bechamel:
Butter and flour to start the roux, and milk and heavy cream (for extra richness). I also add a couple of minced garlic cloves and some salt and pepper for extra flavor.
1 box of penne pasta (14 oz 400 g). You can use any similar pasta, but this is the traditional choice.
Mozzarella cheese for sprinkling on top- this is not always used, but I think the cheese really adds some extra oomph to the dish.
How to make macarona bechamel:
I like to start with the meat sauce, since it takes longer to simmer.
Make the meat sauce:
- For the meat sauce: Saute the onion in the vegetable oil until soft, then add the ground beef until cooked and browned. At this point, I tend to drain the fat before adding the all spice, cinnamon, salt, pepper and minced garlic. Stir to combine evenly.
- Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and remaining spices and brown sugar. Let mixture come to a boil for a few minutes, then add water and reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes.
How to make the best bechamel:
- To make the bechamel sauce: Add the butter and flour to a saucepan, and whisk on medium speed for 3 minutes or so until golden brown and toasted.
TIP: I like to combine the milk and heavy cream in a microwave safe measuring cup, and microwave on medium heat until gently warmed through. The bechamel will thicken much faster if you use warm milk instead of cold straight out the fridge milk.
2. Add the warm milk and heavy cream, and whisk to combine. Add the minced garlic and salt and pepper to taste (plus a pinch of nutmeg if you have any on hand). Whisk constantly, over medium heat until a thick consistency, kind of like gravy. Set aside to cool and thicken slightly for a few minutes.
Have the penne pasta cooked and drained. I cook it al dente according to package instructions- it’s better to under rather than over cook because it’ll cook further in the oven.
Coat the bottom of a 9×13 dish with a heaped tbsp of bechamel sauce that you thinly spread out. This will help prevent the noodles from sticking to the pan.
Toss the cooked pasta with a 1/2 cup of the bechamel mixture. Layer 1/2 this coated pasta on the base of the baking dish. Add all the meat sauce, and spread evenly. Add the second 1/2 of the pasta, then the remaining bechamel sauce. Spread evenly.
Bake in a hot oven for 35 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly, then remove from the oven to sprinkle the mozzarella cheese evenly on top. Return to the oven and broil for 3-5 minutes until cheese is golden brown.
Rest the pasta bake for 10-15 minutes so it isn’t a soupy mess before you cut into it, then enjoy warm. SO good!
What to serve macarona bechamel with:
This is a hearty stand alone meal on it’s own, but it would be great with a simple side salad. You can try a salad with a twist like this cucumber avocado salad.
You can also up the carb content and serve this with homemade dinner rolls. Yum.
Storing leftover macarona:
Leftover macarona will store well tightly covered in the fridge for 3-4 days. Leftovers will be delicious, heated in the microwave or in the oven.
This dish also freezes very well for 4-6 months tightly wrapped in the freezer. You can freeze it either before baking in the oven or after, but my preference would be before baking. You can thaw overnight, or just bake the bechamel directly from frozen adding some time to the baking.
If you liked this recipe, you might like:
The best lasagna ever, that inspired this recipe Lasagna Bolognese with Bechamel,
For the meat sauce:
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 lb ground beef 500 g
- 1 tsp all spice or seven spices
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- black pepper to taste (approx 1/2 tsp)
- salt to taste (approx 1 tsp)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large can tomato sauce (15 oz or 400g)
- 1 small carton tomato paste 5 oz or 135 g
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning or 1/2 tsp dried oregano and 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1/2 cup hot water
For the béchamel:
- 1/4 cup butter 1/2 stick, 56 g
- 1/4 cup flour 31g
- 2 cups milk 480 ml
- 1 cup heavy cream 230 ml
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- pinch nutmeg, optional
- 1 pack penne pasta, 14 oz or 400 g
- 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese 170 g
- Cook the pasta until al dente according to package instructions, then drain and set aside. Make sure not to overcook because pasta will continue to cook in the oven.
For the meat sauce:
- In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, heat the vegetable oil then sauté the onion for a few minutes until soft and translucent. Add the ground beef and cook until it browns, breaking up the beef with a wooden spoon to prevent clumps. If you like, drain the fat from the meat before continuing.
- Add the all spice or seven spices, cinnamon, black pepper, salt and minced garlic.
- Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, garlic powder and brown sugar. Boil for 5 minutes. Add the water, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes.
To make the béchamel:
- In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter with the flour. Whisk until the mixture becomes golden brown (About 3 minutes)
- Warm the milk and heavy cream by combining them in a large microwave safe bowl for a minute so until warm but not boiling.
- Pour the warm milk and cream over the butter/flour mixture, whisking constantly. Add the garlic, salt and pepper, and nutmeg if using. Reduce the heat to medium low (so mixture simmers) and continue to whisk constantly until mixture has thickened. This will take a good 8-10 minutes.
- Once béchamel sauce has formed, turn off the heat and set pan aside to cool slightly.
- Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F). Coat the bottom of a 9×13 inch pyrex or ceramic baking pan with a tbsp or so of béchamel sauce just so the pasta doesn't stick to the bottom.
- Add 1/2 cup of bechamel sauce to the cooked pasta, and stir to combine.
- Layer the baking dish with half of the pasta, then add all of the meat sauce and spread evenly. Add the second half of the pasta, then all the remaining bechamel sauce. Spread evenly.
- Bake for 35 minutes until bechamel has turned golden brown, then optional but recommended, add 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese evenly to the top and return to the oven and broil for an additional 3-5 minutes until cheese is golden brown and bubbling. Let rest 10-15 minutes before cutting and serving.