Cypriot pasta bake (magarina firinda)
- February 2023
- Serves 6-8
- Hands-on time 45 min. Oven time 45 min, plus 30 min resting
“This is a pasta bake to top all pasta bakes. The combination of long, substantial tubes of pasta and a slightly sweet and peppery minced beef filling topped with a thick layer of creamy hellim (halloumi) béchamel sauce is the reason why magarina firinda is my family’s most requested meal,” says food writer Meliz Berg.
Meliz is a self-taught cook who draws on her Turkish-Cypriot heritage, adapting the family recipes of her childhood to suit today’s busy lifestyles. Her first cookbook, Meliz’s Kitchen (Ebury £25), is out now. @melizcooks
- 42.6g (20.2g saturated)
- 66g (10.3g sugars)
For the béchamel
- 100g unsalted butter
- 100g plain flour
- 1.2 litres whole milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 150g halloumi, finely grated
- ½ tsp coarse black pepper
- 2 tbsp dried mint
- 4 medium free-range eggs
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
For the pasta
- 2 tbsp sea salt
- 500g long tubular pasta (we used bucatini, but Mezzani A or ziti work too – see Meliz’s know-how)
- 150g halloumi, finely grated
- 1 tsp dried mint
For the filling
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 750g beef mince
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp dried mint
- 3 onions, finely chopped
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 50g flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
- 34cm x 24cm deep roasting tray or dish
- Prepare the béchamel first, as it needs time to cool down before you whisk in the eggs a little later on. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low-medium heat, then whisk in the flour to form a roux (thick paste). Once the roux starts to bubble, add the milk a little at a time, whisking constantly (throw in the bay leaf too). Keep adding more milk as and when the sauce thickens and bubbles. Once all the milk has been incorporated and the sauce just starts to come to the boil, remove from the heat. Add the halloumi, pepper and dried mint and stir until the cheese melts into the sauce a little. Set aside.
- Fill a large pan (one with a lid) with cold water. Cover and set on the hob over a high heat.
- To prepare the filling, heat the olive oil in another large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Once hot, add the beef mince to the pan, breaking it up with a spoon. Keep browning the beef for 5-6 minutes, then add the cinnamon and dried mint, giving it all a good stir. Add the onions, reducing the heat and cooking everything for around 10-12 minutes.
- By now the water in the large pan should be boiling, so add the 2 tbsp sea salt followed by the pasta, gently pushing down on the tubes so the pasta is fully immersed in the boiling water. Because the tubes are long and thick, they’ll probably need cooking for 12-15 minutes, but check them after 12 minutes as you don’t want the pasta to be too soft. While the pasta is cooking, return your attention to the filling.
- Once the onions have softened, season everything with the fine sea salt and ground black pepper, stir through the parsley, cook for another minute, then remove the pan from the heat.
- Heat the oven to 180°C fan/gas 6. Once cooked, drain and add half the pasta to the baking tray or dish. Mix together the grated halloumi and dried mint and add half of it to the pasta, gently stirring through the tubes. Pile all of the filling on top, followed by the remaining pasta, then the remaining halloumi mixture sprinkled over the top.
- Remove the bay leaf from the béchamel. Whisk together the eggs in a bowl until light and fluffy, then slowly pour them into the sauce, whisking constantly until they are fully amalgamated. Pour the béchamel over the top of the pasta in an even layer, sprinkle over the sesame seeds, and cook in the oven for 35 45 minutes or until golden brown and a little darker in places. Let it stand for at least 30 minutes to cool down a little and for the layers to firm up before serving.
Variations: To make a veggie version, use 600g very finely chopped chestnut mushrooms and 250g precooked puy lentils in place of the minced beef.
Traditionally, the pasta used to make magarına fırında is called ‘Mezzani A’, which is similar to ziti, but bucatini is also used.
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