The first time I tasted traditional Pasta bake was at the home of one of my colleagues at London. I had travelled to the U.K for a work trip and one of my Indian colleagues had invited me over to his beautiful home at Marble Arch….Those were the days. Sitting cozy in a warm apartment enjoying some English Sherry and amazingly tasty tangy pasta bake when it was dark, cold and rainy outside…
Another dish that managed to catch my fancy was the American Macaroni and Cheese and as much as I loved these dishes I have never created either of them till date. The off the shelf ones like the Kraft Mac n Cheese or the ones close to home like Sunfeast Pasta treats and what nots don’t even come close to the original. In fact sometimes when I tasted these recipes at restaurants I felt that they were too “floury” or bland and sometimes even tasteless for my palette.
The other day my mom gave me a pack of left over macaroni shells from my some of my previous cooking experiments and it went on to reside on my kitchen shelf until one day I craved some pasta and cheese.. But here is the thing – I love veggies in all my dishes and never really plain pasta and sauce. So I thought long and hard and decided to turn the traditional Mac N Cheese into one filled with some vegetables and some flavor – And this was the result.
This recipe serves at least 4-5 people with normal appetites
Ingredients and Method:
Macaroni Shells – 250-300 gms / I used the small variety of shells that we get in the stores out here at Chennai
Cook the shells in enough water with salt as per the instructions on the pack until al dente. Drain the pasta and keep aside
- Shredded Mozzarella Cheese – 1 cup / I used Amul mozzarella Pizza Cheese as I couldn’t find much variety out here. I personally feel a mix of mozzarella, cheddar and any other sharp cheese would be a more excellent choice.
- Milk – 500 ml / I used toned milk
- Flour – 3 tbsp
- Olive Oil – 3 tbsp [I prefer Extra Virgin]
- Italian Seasoning – to taste / This is usually a mix of Basil and Oregano
- Salt – to taste
- Pepper – to taste
Add the olive oil to a hot and sauce pan (non-stick preferable) – Love the smell of OO!!
- Add the flour and keep stirring and be careful not to let it burn
- Now is the time to take stock of your sauce. Lower the heat and smell the flour and if the raw smell of the flour is lost,stream in the milk while you keep stirring the sauce
- Add milk and keep stirring until the sauce gets thick
- Add some salt and pepper along with the Italian seasoning and stir until you get a thick sauce.
- Switch off the gas and add the shredded cheese and mix well.
My suggestion would be to prepare the white sauce after the vegetables. White sauce does tend to thicken as it cools and it gets complicated to handle sauce that too thick..
- Spinach – 1 bunch / I used the local “Palak” and not even “Delhi Palak” but it was very fresh and that’s important
- Cherry Tomatoes – 10 sliced in half
- Garlic – 2 cloves – Smash them well.This is up to you.I don’t like whole cloves our pieces in my mouth so I smash them well
- with the side of my knife
- Red pepper flakes – 1-2 tsp
- Purple Cabbage – 1 small head
- Salt – to taste
- Pepper – to taste
- Nutmeg – a pinch
- Olive Oil – 2 tbsp
Go crazy with vegetables! Just use the combinations you like. I used some colorful vegetables as they contrast well with white sauce when served. Who said cooking is not an art? 🙂
- Add the olive oil to a hot sauce pan.
Throw in the chili flakes and move them around the pan.They will look like pretty red and pink flakes against green OO
- Next throw in the mashed garlic and toss around till the raw smell of garlic starts disappearing.
- This should be followed by the cabbage, cherry tomatoes and spinach. Do saute a vegetable for at least a minute or 2 before adding the next one. You don’t want to end up with a mess of mashed up veggies…
- Add some salt and pepper for taste followed by nutmeg. Nutmeg and Spinach are supposed to be a magical combination and you would never know until you try it 🙂
- Do a taste test and add more seasoning if required. It will be ok if the vegetables are a bit crunchy. Remember we are going to bake this whole lot of vegetable goodness so it is ok
- If you happy with your veggie mix, switch off your stove add the macaroni to the veggies and toss well.
- Now slowly add the entire mix into the sauce and mix well.
Don’t worry we are almost there. The process may seem a tad long but its worth it
Bread Crumbs – 1/2 cup [give or take]
To make bread crumbs @home simply take 2 slices of a day or two old bread and run it in the mixer and voila! You have bread crumbs.
No need to buy these at the store any more – I learnt this from my browsing adventures on the web 🙂
Assembling the Macaroni Veggie Bake
- Pre-heat an oven at about 180-200 degree Celsius. Honestly I just eye balled the temperature too.
- Grease an aluminium dish or casserole with butter or OO
- Spread the macaroni mixture evenly over the dish
- Top with some grated cheese – either cheddar or mozzarella or a mix of both. I do love my cheese!
- Follow this with a spread of bread crumbs. Spread this evenly over the dish and remember not to over do this.
- When the oven “dings” its readiness, pop in the dish and bake for about 20 minutes and bake till the crust starts turning golden brown.
Remember the cooking time depends upon your oven and voltage fluctuation in your city!! So it may take lesser or more baking time in some cases. In my case, the bake got a bit too brown for my liking.
Switch off the oven and cut some slices of the macaroni veggie bake with a serving spoon (a cake serving spoon would be the best, if you don’t have this no worries use an ordinary large table-spoon)
Serve with some lovely green salad or garlic bread! Those who need more tanginess or spice can take the aid of the dependable tomato ketchup or tabasco sauce….
Well this version of my bake did get some decent reviews though my husband refused to eat! He is not an italian fan unless its garlic bread or pizzas! Yeah I know – I do pity him! Rest assured other adventurous eaters in my family enjoyed it and I am happy to say that my mom loved it! She loves the “Chef’s Bake” at Eden and orders it every time we are there which is not too often! The fact that someone like her who never uses garlic in her cooking loved my creation is a huge for me and what is more my MIL thought it looked really good and she would have actually had it if the garlic was absent and this is someone who wouldn’t even go near something that has cheese in it! Well, that was the cherry on my cake or pasta 🙂 Plus this version is more healthier as it focusses more and veggies and less on sauce…yumm
Let me know what you think.