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Domatesli Kıymalı Fırın Makarnası (Tomatoey Beef Mince Cypriot Pasta Bake)




RECIPE

For the Hellim Bechamel Sauce

60g Butter
60g Flour
800ml Milk (I use semi-skimmed, you can use whole)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp coarse black pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
200g finely grated hellim / halloumi cheese
2 level tbsp dried mint
2 eggs, beaten well
1 tsp sesame seeds

For the Pasta

300g long tubular pasta like maccheroncelli / Mezzani A / perciatelli / Bucatini
50g finely grated hellim
1 tsp dried mint

For the Meat Sauce

3 tbsp olive / sunflower / rapeseed / vegetable / rice bran oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
500g beef mince
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp sweet red pepper paste (tatli biber salcasi)
1 can chopped tomatoes / 400g fresh tomatoes peeled and finely chopped
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped / grated
1 tbsp dried mint
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sea salt flakes
3/4 coarse black pepper
1 tsp grape / date / pomegrante molasses
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

METHOD

Fill a large soup pan with cold water and put on a medium to high heat. 

While the water in the soup pan is heating up, prepare your bechamel. You need to make the bechamel now so that it has time to cool down (to whisk in the eggs later on). Melt the butter in a stainless steel pan on a medium heat, then whisk in the flour to form a roux (thick paste). Once the roux starts to bubble, add the milk at around 2ooml at a time (throw in the bay leaf and a pinch of nutmeg in now too), whisking consistently, adding more as and when the sauce thickens and bubbles. Once all the milk has been poured in and the sauce just starts to come up to a simmer, take off the heat, stir in the hellim and mint and leave to one side until later.

Heat up the sunflower oil in another large pan on a low-medium heat, and cook the onion, carrot and celery for 10-12 mins until fullly softened and translucent. 

The water in the large pan should now be boiling, so add 2 tsp sea salt flakes to the boiling water, then add the pasta to the pan, gently push the pasta down as it starts to soften so that it's fully immersed in the boiling water. Because the tubes are long and thick, they'll probably need cooking for 12-15 minutes, but just check. While the pasta is cooking, return to the meat sauce. 

Once the onion, carrot and garlic has softened, add the the garlic, cook for a further 2-3 minutes before adding the bay leaf, dried herbs, seasoning and spices, stirring well, for a couple of minutes before adding the beef mince. Cook the minuce until the meat has browned all over (5-10 minutes). Stir in the tomato and red pepper pastes, then the chopped tomatoes (add a tiny bit of cold water to the can if using tinned tomatoes and add it to the pan or just add a bit of water to the pan if using fresh tomatoes, 50ml or so), molasses and balsamic vinegar, then turn down the heat and simmer on a low-medium heat for around 10-15 minutes more. 

Preheat the oven to 190C fan / 210C conventional. 

While the meat is simmering, check that the pasta is cooked, and once it is, remove with a slotted pasta spork to a deep baking dish (I prefer to use a ceramic one but metal is fine, just make sure it's deep enough to take all of the components without overspilling). Add the 50g finely grated hellim and dried mint to the pasta and gently stir it in so it mixes up a little. Once the meat sauce is cooked, layer it on top of the pasta. 

Now back to the bechamel. It should now be cooled so remove the bay leaf and whisk / stir in the beaten eggs until they're fully amalgamated in the bechamel. Pour the bechamel over the meat sauce in one even layer, sprinkle over the sesame seeds, and cook in the oven for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and and a little darker in places, like the photo (I take my tray out halfway through and flip the dish round for a more even bake becauce my oven is a little quirky like that). 

Wait at least 20-30 minutes before serving, if not a little longer. Absolute heaven. 

N.B. You can use 300g very finely chopped mushrooms and 250g pack of precooked puy lentils in place of the mince to make this a veggie version.

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