If there were ever a time to throw caution to the wind when it comes to carbs, cheese, creamy sauce and hearty meat, now is the time. This recipe—packed with a meaty tomato sauce, penne pasta, warm spices and an easier-than-you-think béchamel sauce that just melts in your mouth—is a true family favorite. It’s a hit with grown-ups and kids alike.
And don’t be scared by the fancy name béchamel. If you can melt butter, you can make this sauce.
INGREDIENTS (serves 6-8)
FOR THE PASTA
1 pound penne, cooked in a pot of salted water until al dente, drained and put back in the pot
FOR THE MEAT LAYER
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds ground lamb or lean ground round
1½ cups water
½ cup sherry cooking wine
1 (16-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
FOR THE SAUCE
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups 2 percent milk
¾ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cayenne
1 cup Parmesan, grated
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
MAKE THE MEAT LAYER
> In a large, nonstick saucepan over medium heat, add oil. When hot, add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Stir in the ground lamb and cook until crumbly and no longer pink; drain fat and discard.
> Pour in the water, wine and tomato sauce. Season with cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper and cayenne.
> Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
MAKE THE SAUCE
> Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Pour in the milk, whisking until smooth. The mixture should be thick and bubbly, and coat the back of a spoon.
> Stir in salt, nutmeg, cayenne and Parmesan.
COMBINE INTO THE DISH
> Add the lamb mixture to the cooked pasta and then spread it into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the top of the pasta, smoothing to level. Sprinkle with nutmeg if desired.
> Bake until the top is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 15 minutes before serving.