Egyptian macarona bechamel (مكرونة بشاميل,) is a comfort food recipe popular in Egypt made from penne pasta and a minced meat sauce baked with creamy béchamel. If you’re not already familiar with it, you can think of it as an Egyptian pasta bake with bechamel sauce.
Story time, bestie! I must have been around ten years old the first time I tried Macarona Bechamel. It was at my very first sleepover. I was visiting the home of my childhood best friend.
The plan was to laugh, and play, and climb into restricted construction sites. You know, the things unsupervised ten-year-old boys do! And then after a long day, we were going to play videos games and then get some well-deserved rest.
Well, there was no sleeping…not for me, at least! It turned out my friend’s bedroom was gigantic. And all the empty dark spaces in it housed monsters (honestly, I saw them! And you can’t make me believe otherwise). I found myself running out through a tight corridor and into their living room, finding safety in the warm light of the television.
Sometime later, his mother found me in front of the television. Realizing that I was terrified of the dark, she sat with me, and fed me some of her homemade macarona bechamel. It was that night I learnt that Macarona Bechamel is the perfect Egyptian comfort food. Pasta, a meat sauce, and bechamel…what’s not to love?
What is Macarona Bechamel
Macarona Bechamel (مكرونة بشاميل,) is essentially Egypt’s take on a Bechamel pasta bake. Typically, it’s made from layers of penne pasta, a spiced meat and tomato sauce, and bechamel. A cheesy layer is often added but is not necessary. (This recipe adds a mozzarella layer because mmmm…cheese.)
Regarding which method (cheese or no cheese) is most authentic, the jury is out – you’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask!
When I asked my Egyptian foodie friends how they’d describe this comfort food favorite, they called it something in-between a beef lasagna and a Greek pastitsio.
Macaroni Bechamel VS Macarona Bechamel
I’ve seen the dish referred to as macaroni bechamel as well – typically, this is a well-meaning mistake common in the West. It comes from Westerners trying the dish in Egypt (or other parts of the Middle East), and then swapping the name to macaroni (because it reminds them of macaroni and cheese).
This is incorrect for two reasons: firstly, the correct name for the dish is Macarona Bechamel. And secondly, it’s typically made using penne pasta, and not elbow macaroni.
For the meat sauce
- Ground beef
- Tomato sauce
- Olive Oil
- Black pepper
For the Béchamel sauce
- Unsalted butter
For the pasta
- Penne pasta (rigatoni is another popular option)
How to make Macarona Bechamel
Making an Egyptian pasta bake, like Macarona Bechamel, is easier than you’d think! The process is actually very similar to making a lasagna – except, you’re using penne pasta instead of lasagna sheets, and a creamy bechamel sauce instead of the traditional tomato-based sauce you see in many lasagnes. Here are the main steps:
Prepare the pasta
Nothing special here! You’re just preparing the pasta as you always would (al dente, you are cooking your pasta al dente, right bestie?).
Make the Béchamel mixture
Luckily, Bechamel is one of the easiest mother sauces to prepare. It’s simply a matter of mixing melted butter with flour and milk over a low heat.
Macarona Bechamel, Assemble!
In a large baking dish, Add the components you’ve already made: pasta first, then stir in the meat sauce. Next is a layer of mozzarella cheese, and the finally layer is a generous helping of the creamy bechamel sauce you’ve made. Smooth it out, bake, and then you’re ready for an Egyptian feast!
Tips for the best Macarona Bechamel recipe
I know, I know…making a Bechamel sauce sounds intimidating. Don’t worry, bestie – it’s not very difficult. I’d say it’s actually a great beginner sauce because it introduces you to working with a roux (which is fancy French chef-speak for flour and fat being cooked together. In this case, the fat is butter, and milk is whisked into the roux to create a white sauce known as Bechamel).
Assuming you follow the recipe, your ratio for flour to butter should be fine, so the only thing to remember to do is to whisk in the milk gradually. If you pour it in all at once, there’s a significant chance that you’ll end up with a lumpy sauce. Life will be easier if you use milk at room temperature.
Typically, penne pasta is used for this recipe, however the type of pasta really doesn’t matter too much. (I’d recommend something like penne or rigatoni which can hold the béchamel meat mixture. Spaghetti works – I’ve tried it! But it’s a much messier final dish.)
Make sure you’re cooking your pasta al dente (usually this just means following the instructions on your pasta box!). If you over cook it, it will be too soft and break too easily.
It’s quite easy to create variations of this dish. Here are a few simple suggestions:
- Change the flavor palate of your minced meat sauce – I feel that adding a little garlic powder can do wonders. Others will suggest you mix in some ground cinnamon, or a variety of spices to add a bit more kick to the sauce.
- Change up the cheese – while I use ooey gooey mozzarella, you can also opt for a generous sprinkling of parmesan cheese, or something wholly more indulgent (use your imagination!).
- Thoughtful garnishes can make a difference to a dish. Personally, I like to keep it as simple as possible (what? I’m lazy.), but parsley or fresh thyme is often used to make the final dish look a little prettier.
This makes for an excellent make-ahead recipe. It can be made, stored in an airtight container (if you can’t fit it into an airtight container, a tight layer of clingfilm will work), and refrigerated for 3-5 days. Some will even say that their Macarona Bechamel tastes better on day 2!
More Middle Eastern Recipes
If you enjoyed this Egyptian recipe, you’re sure to like these other recipes popular or inspired by the Middle East.
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While there’s no special equipment required to make this dish, a large Pyrex baking dish will make your life a little easier.
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That’s it for today, bestie! So. What do you think of this Egyptian version of a pasta bake? Will you be making Macarona Bechamel soon? Let me know in the comments below.Print