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Maltese Baked Macaroni

May 15, 2011

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!

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Matthew Vaughn permalink
    May 24, 2011 3:00 pm

    You have a good writing style. I’m still not sure about corned beef though, despite the country girl metaphor!

    • May 25, 2011 12:43 am

      Give it a try! I don’t think I’d ever eaten corned beef in my life – it was sort of a semi-mythical horror story, like Spam – until I ate at my in-laws for the first time. I was pleasantly surprised. I certainly wouldn’t eat corned beef just as is, but cooked into a tomato sauce like this, it’s oddly delicious.

  2. June 1, 2011 6:07 am

    All the women in my Maltese family make baked macaroni and it was my favorite thing to eat as a child. We had two versions- Mum called it “Baked Red Macaroni” which was mince meat and tomato based sauce, and a “Baked White Macaroni” which was with pork, the juice from it’s roasting integrated into a white cheese sauce- only you had to use that commercially processed Kraft cheddar stuff in the blue box or the taste just wasn’t the same.

    Looking back, I’m not surprised she stopped making this a long time ago as it’s hardly healthy but it was soooo good! So no, no tinned corned beef in my family but my Grandfather did like to eat that stuff with Maltese bread.

    • June 1, 2011 7:04 am

      My father-in-law will sit down to lunch with a vienna loaf, a tomato, a bowl of olive oil and some peeled garlic cloves.

      Cut off a chunk of bread, dip it in the oil, rub some garlic in, then squish a piece of tomato on it.

      • Joan permalink
        July 24, 2011 2:21 pm

        And he will live a long time…thanks for the recipe.

  3. Julian permalink
    October 8, 2011 10:01 am

    This is the EXACT same recipe my mother made for so many years. Definitely my favourite meal growing up – she’d always make a huge batch and put them in the freezer and pull one out if her & dad were going on a holiday as it would feed me for a week while they were gone. The dish tastes even better in leftover form and is even good cold!

  4. Carmie permalink
    October 14, 2012 8:52 am

    Kifinti. My nuna made this recipe almost exactly, except for the peas & chilli. I love it & make it often for my Canadian husband & 2 grown up girls who love it. Xo

    • November 1, 2013 10:57 pm

      The chilli is something I made up, but the peas comes directly from my mother-in-law.

      (btw, my Maltese is shocking, and my wife’s at work so I can’t ask her – but does ‘kifinti’ mean roughly ‘same here’?)

      I’ll bet your nanna piled huge slabs of it on everyone’s plate 🙂 My father-in-law always protests, ‘Mary! Not so much!’

  5. Michael permalink
    October 30, 2012 5:16 am

    I remember my Mother made it with corn beef when we couldn’t afford mince. It was always delicious. I make it with diced bacon & lots of palmeson in the mixture & spinkle a good hand full on top prior to baking. A magnificent dish which leaves you satisfied but wanting more if you know what I mean.

  6. Stephanie permalink
    May 10, 2013 11:01 am

    Thank you so much for this. My friend’s mum was Maltese, unfortunately she passed away and my friend have never felt comfortable trying to make it. But this sounds odentical. I have fond memories of scabbing mouthfuls from my friend when she brought the leftovers to school. Will give this a try.

    • November 1, 2013 10:54 pm

      I’m sorry to hear about your friend’s mother, but I hope this gives her the confidence to try making it again. These sort of recipes should be passed on!

      Thank you for your comment, I’m really flattered.

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