An unusual take on a baked pasta casserole, sort of a Greek baked ziti. This can be made in one big family style casserole, or two smaller sizes. Take one to a friend and have one for dinner. - TheRunawaySpoon —TheRunawaySpoon
Test Kitchen Notes
We recently made a quadruple batch of this recipe (last year's Baked Pasta runner-up) for a dinner party and were reminded just how much we love it. We promptly decided it deserved a spot in the second food52 cookbook. Here are our original notes: This is shepherd's pie meets moussaka -- a lamb ragout spiced with cinnamon, oregano, sumac and mint is blended with penne and feta and then topped with a cayenne-scented bechamel. After baking in the oven -- we turned up the heat to 450 degrees for the final 10 minutes -- it emerges crisp on the perimeter with a thick toasted bechamel cap. A few tips: remember to salt the pasta water and you should undercook the pasta because it will continue cooking in the later baking stage. And when you add the tomato paste to the lamb, let it toast a bit before adding the water. - A&M —The Editors
Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and reserve. Stir in the butter to prevent sticking.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the lamb until no longer pink, breaking it into pieces, about 8 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Transfer to a colander and shake well to drain the fat. Return the lamb to the pan, add the wine and cook over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the tomato paste, cinnamon, oregano, (sumac and mint if using) and 2 cups of water. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
For the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until incorporated, about 30 seconds. In a slow steady stream, whisk in the milk until there are no lumps. Cook, whisking often, until the mixture is thick and bubbly and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 - 7 minutes. Stir in the cayenne and the Parmesan.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Add the pasta to the lamb mixture and stir to combine. Toss in the feta and combine. Spoon the mixture into a greased 9 x13 inch baking dish. Spread the cheese sauce over the pasta mixture, smoothing the top with a spoon. Bake until browned in spots, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven then allow to cool for about 15 minutes before serving.