Who doesn’t start to think about holidays at this time of year. My thoughts are elsewhere at present, floating around warmer climates and sunny days. I can’t wait to return to the Greek Islands in the near future, but until then I can at least try to replicate the food! Some comfort, at least.

This dish originates from Corfu and offers an extremely hearty and substantial plate. There are a few components to juggle when putting it together, but as with everything, a little work and effort more than pays off. You will need to allow a couple of hours for preparation and cooking. It’s a real hit in the greedy house, and now that I’m feeding a hungry builder on a daily basis, it’s certainly a keeper.

The recipe that we chose came from Rick Stein’s great ‘Mediterranean Escapes’ book. I pretty much followed it to the letter, apart from omitting the fresh oregano and celery. None of us are particularly fond of celery in truth, and we are always happy with the results without it! The full ingredients list and cooking method can be found in the book.

To make our version of this dish (serves six generously) you will need:
For the meat sauce:
– 1kg of lean steak mince
– Four tablespoons of olive oil
– One medium onion (peeled/finely chopped)
– Four cloves of garlic (peeled/finely chopped)
– Two celery sticks (finely chopped – we omitted this)
– One tin of chopped tomatoes
– 200ml of good red wine
– Two tablespoons of tomato purée
– 100ml of water
– One tablespoon of dried oregano
– Two tablespoons of fresh oregano (finely chopped – we omitted this)
– One cinnamon stick
– Three fresh bay leaves
– Quarter of a teaspoon of ground cloves
– Salt and black pepper (to taste)
For the pasta:
– 500g of tubular pasta (we used penne)
– Two eggs (lightly beaten)
– 50g of parmesan (finely grated)
– 10g of fresh breadcrumbs
– Salt and black pepper (to taste)
– Two tablespoons of melted butter (or a small amount of soft butter to grease the dish)
For the white sauce:
– 115g of butter
– 115g of plain flour
– 1.2 litres of whole milk
– Half a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
– Salt and black pepper (to taste)
– Starting with the meat sauce, heat the olive oil in a large stove top dish and fry the onions, garlic and celery (if using) until they begin to brown.
– Add in the mince and cook for a few minutes until brown, breaking it up with a wooden spoon.
– Mix in the red wine, chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, water, cinnamon stick, ground cloves, oregano and bay. Season well and leave to simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes (stirring occasionally).
– Cook until the sauce has reduced – but not too much, so it’s still moist. When finished, remove and discard the cinnamon stick and bay leaves.
– Boil the pasta in a large pan of salted water until al dente (approximately nine to ten minutes) – do avoid over cooking it as it will cook a little in the oven too. Drain and transfer to a large bowl to cool (you may want to add a drizzle of olive oil to prevent it sticking and stir occasionally).
– To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in the flour over a moderate heat to make a roux. Slowly add in the milk, stirring continuously. Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer for approximately five minutes. Season well to taste and add in the nutmeg.
– Pre-heat the oven to gas mark four/180C and then return to the pasta, stirring well first. Pour in around one fifth of the white sauce, half of the cheese and the beaten eggs. Mix well.
– Take a large oven dish and grease the inside with the melted butter (I just used some left over soft butter). Line the base of the dish with a third of the pasta, then cover with half of the meat sauce.
– Next, add another third of pasta and cover with the rest of the meat sauce. Tip the remaining pasta over the top followed by the rest of the white sauce.
– Mix the leftover cheese and breadcrumbs together and sprinkle over the top.
– Bake for around forty minutes or until crisp and golden brown.

Now, this dish isn’t particularly a ‘looker’ but in terms of taste, it’s up there with the best comfort food you could wish for. I love the hit of cinnamon running through the rich meaty layers and the hint of nutmeg nestling in the creamy white sauce. With a nice crunchy topping as well, it’s ticking boxes for both texture and flavour. I’d rather be eating it in a little, quaint Greek taverna…but this will definitely do for now. Great stuff Rick.