Fragrant cinnamon, oregano and thyme lend an exotic touch to this baked pasta dish. I often make it with ground lamb, although beef is a satisfying substitute. It can be made almost entirely ahead and serves a crowd — two things that make entertaining family and friends easy and enjoyable. From Meredith Deeds.
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (used 2)
- 3 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced (used 2 tablespoons bottled crushed garlic)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 to 1 1/2 lb. lean ground lamb or beef, or a combination of both
- 1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes, with juices (used 2 15-oz cans)
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
- Pinch of cayenne
- (Dash of smoked paprika)
- 1 lb. elbow or penne pasta
- 1 c. (2 percent) milk
- 1 c. low-fat Greek yogurt
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 c. finely grated Parmesan, divided
Heat the oven to 375 degrees and arrange a rack in the middle.
To make the sauce, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, about 6 minutes.
Add the meat and break up any large clumps with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, cinnamon, oregano and thyme, and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 to 10 minutes more, then remove from the heat.
Meanwhile (ahem: If your stove is as slow as mine is, start the water going right away. It takes 4 quarts of water to cook a pound of elbow macaroni), bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook pasta to not quite al dente (you want to undercook the pasta as it will continue to cook in the oven). When pasta is done, add to the sauce and toss to coat.
Pour the pasta into a large baking dish. (The pasta can be made ahead until this point, covered with foil and frozen for up to 3 weeks. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and proceed with the recipe, adding 10 to 15 minutes more to the cooking time.)
In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, yogurt, eggs and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese until evenly combined. Slowly pour it over the entire dish; the liquid should completely cover the noodles. Sprinkle the top with remaining cheese. Cover with foil and bake until bubbly, about 40 to 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until bubbling and browned, about 10 to 15 minutes more. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.