Maltese Baked Macaroni
Baked macaroni is real, traditional Maltese peasant cooking. It’s a Maltese family staple.
So it’s not the sort of food you want to trick up too much. I’ve seen ‘food safari’-type versions of baked macaroni that called for such high-falutin’ mucky-muck as duck liver and whatnot, but that completely misses the point. This is the sort of food where Ma will serve you up a slab the size of a house brick (but still fussing that you haven’t got enough) with inch-thick slices of vienna bread, while Dad pours you a beer glass full of plonk.
That said, I have tinkered with my Mother-in-law’s recipe just a little, just to add a little pizzazz, but I’ve left one key ingredient untouched. Now brace yourselves here, because this may surprise you; if you’re a hardcore foodie, you’ll probably recoil in horror.
Tinned corned beef.
Yep, tinned corned beef. I’ve seen corned beef used to make pasta sauces (I’ll post the recipe for the magnificent ravioli some time), which are surprisingly delicious. I’m not sure where this little oddity of Maltese cooking comes from, but it seems to be quite common, at least in the generation of Maltese who migrated to Australia after the War. My personal suspicion is that it’s a relic of Malta’s long occupation as a British naval base.
You can choose to use beef mince instead, if corned beef is just too much for you to contemplate, but, I don’t know, the dish just loses some of its homey authenticity when you do. It’s like forcing a country girl into a formal frock, when she’s just as nice, and much more fun, in a pair of jeans.
What do I need?
- Dried Macaroni
- Olive Oil
- 2 small-medium onions, roughly chopped
- 3 or 4 cloves garlic, sliced thickly
- About 1 tsp chopped fresh chilli
- Tin corned beef
- 440g Tin Tomatoes
- 3 or 4 good-sized dollops of tomato paste
- ½ cup red wine
- ½ cup water
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- Small handful of grated parmesan
- Salt and Cracked Black Pepper to taste
- ¾ cup frozen peas
- 4 eggs
What do I do?
Heat the water to boiling, and cook the macaroni. How much macaroni, you’re naturally asking? Well, that’s a hard one – I’ve never really measured it, as such. The best answer I can give is: LOTS. I usually just dump about half-a-dozen handfuls into a big pot of water. Then add another handful, just to be sure.
Basically, you’ll want enough to fill a good-sized baking dish (25cm square at least). About 3 cups of dried pasta.
When the macaroni is done, drain it and set aside.
While the macaroni is cooking, heat the olive oil in a frypan, and fry the onions, garlic and chilli until the onions soften. Add the corned beef, and break it up with a spoon as it fries and softens. Chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan with the tomato paste, wine and water. You should aim to make the sauce fairly runny. Add more water if needed. Add the oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.
Cook the sauce til it’s nice and rich; should only take about as long as the macaroni takes to cook, maybe a bit longer. You’ll know when the sauce is good and smooth, and a good, rich red.
Spray a baking dish with cooking spray and tip in the macaroni. Stir the meat sauce, parmesan and peas evenly through the pasta.
Beat the eggs until they’re foamy, and add them to the pasta. The trick here is not to stir the eggs thoroughly through the macaroni mix, but to just pour them on top, a bit at a time, and kind of just push the top layer of macaroni about a little with a wooden spoon to help the egg soak down into the pasta. Once you’ve covered the whole dish, put it into a moderate oven and bake for around 30 minutes.
When it’s done, it should be crispy-crunchy on top, but the pasta inside should still be soft – although, I will admit this is sometimes a bone of contention: some people like the crunchy pasta, others prefer the soft pasta in the middle.
*** EDIT ***
I tried chopping up a couple of chorizos into rough chunks, and stirring them through the pasta. Very worthy addition!