Macarona bechamel is a bechamel pasta bake made with creamy homemade bechamel, delicious meat sauce and 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?
- Why should I make this recipe?
- What ingredients do I need to make macarona bechamel?
- How to make the best bechamel pasta bake:
- Tips for making the best bechamel sauce:
- What to serve macarona bechamel with:
- Storing leftover macarona:
- Freezing bechamel pasta:
- Recipe tips and tricks:
- Recipe FAQs:
- Macarona Bechamel
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 Egyptians take a lot of pride in their macarona bechamel!
The hallmark of this delicious baked bechamel pasta is layers of pasta with a creamy homemade bechamel sauce, topped with saucy ground beef. The top is then baked until golden brown and bubbly. Penne pasta or a similar type of pasta is usually used.
It’s sort of like a lasagna, but with even more depth of flavor with the Middle Eastern stuffed beef, the thick layer of bechamel, plus you get more pasta flavor using penne instead of thin sheets.
Why should I make this recipe?
This is a straightforward recipe that has a few steps, but feeds a crowd and is 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 alike will love this Egyptian pasta bake!
What ingredients do I need to make macarona bechamel?
For the meat sauce:
Ground beef: I like using low fat mince, there’s so much extra flavor from the spices and tomato sauce that you don’t need to rely on fat for flavor.
Vegetable oil: for cooking the beef
Diced onion and minced garlic: If you want an easy hack, instead of chopping, pulse these in a food processor. Total time saver!
Spices: all spice or seven spices, ground cinnamon, as well as salt and pepper for seasoning. What I basically add anytime I’m cooking ground beef in a Middle Eastern recipe.
For the tomato sauce:
Canned tomato sauce: you can also substitute ready made pasta or marinara sauce
Tomato paste: plenty! it gives such a great rich flavor
Garlic powder: You can also substitute a couple gloves crushed garlic.
Italian seasoning: or add a mix of dried basil and dried oregano
Brown sugar: This helps cut the acidity of the tomatoes
Water: To thin out the sauce a little because it does thicken quite a bit while simmering.
For the bechamel sauce:
Butter and flour: two ingredients necessary to start the roux which thickens the sauce.
Milk and heavy cream: I found mixing both gives the perfect richness. Milk alone isn’t rich enough, and heavy cream on its own is a little too decadent
Garlic cloves: Garlic adds flavor to everything, and bechamel sauce is no exception!I
Seasoning: salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg if you have it on hand.
Penne pasta: or use ziti, elbow macaroni, anything you have on hand. My favorite is penne and that’s usually the traditional choice in a bechamel bake.
Mozzarella cheese: Not typically used, but how can you go wrong with some golden brown bubbly cheese on top!
How to make the best bechamel pasta bake:
- 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.
- 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.
- Add the warm milk and heavy cream, and whisk to combine. Add the minced garlic and salt and pepper to taste, and nutmeg if using. 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 tablespoon of bechamel sauce that you thinly spread out. This will help prevent the noodles from sticking to the pan.
- Toss the cooked pasta with 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!
Tips for making the best bechamel sauce:
- Make sure you cook the butter/flour mixture until light golden brown, a full 3 minutes because this will enhance the flavor of the sauce.
- It’ll make it much easier for you to use warm milk and cream, because the bechamel will thicken a lot faster. I like to combine the milk and heavy cream in a microwave safe measuring cup, and microwave on medium heat until gently warmed through.
- Keep whisking throughout to avoid the bottom of the sauce burning, or lumps in the sauce.
- Be patient! It’ll take some arm work and some time to get the sauce to thicken, but keep going and you’ll get a good thick soup consistency which will set up perfectly in the finished pasta dish.
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.
Freezing bechamel pasta:
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.
Recipe tips and tricks:
- Don’t skimp on simmering the meat sauce, it’ll add so much flavor to the sauce.
- Cook the pasta until al dente when boiling. Don’t overcook, otherwise it’ll get too mushy when layered with the sauce and baked in the oven.
- This recipe freezes so well. I love doubling the ingredients, making one pan for dinner, and one pan to go into the freezer to have on standby for whenever you don’t have time to make dinner from scratch.
Absolutely! Try using mushrooms in the tomato sauce instead of meat, and make the rest of the recipe as written.
Yes, for up to six months. It may separate a little when thawing, but stirring it vigorously will bring it back together.
Yes, you can assemble the whole dish, wrap it and keep it in the fridge for 1-2 days. Whenever you are ready, bake as usual.
Related pasta recipes:
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For the meat sauce:
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 lb ground beef 500 g
- 1 teaspoon all spice or seven spices
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 can tomato sauce (15 oz or 400g)
- 1 carton tomato paste 5 oz or 135 g
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1/2 cup hot water
For the béchamel:
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature 1/2 stick, 56 g
- 1/4 cup flour 31g
- 2 cups full fat 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, salt, black pepper, 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. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
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 tablespoon or so of béchamel sauce 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.