Last weekend, we entertained another round of "guinea pig" dinner. Guinea pig dinner was created a few years ago when we would have friends for dinner to try out new and different recipes. Many times our friends would arrive not knowing what would be served outside of, "we are cooking Italian" or " it's a seafood night." Thank goodness we have good friends who trust us and have enjoyed 90% of what we have served. I would say 100% but we have had a few culinary disasters.
The March 2011 edition of Bon Appetit magazine arrived a few weeks ago and had some great pasta recipes. We came across the Moroccan-Spiced Pastitsio and Lamb and Feta and thought this could be a nice twist on a lasagna recipe. The intriguing part to this recipe was the spice called ras-el-hanout. As I researched the multi-cultural spice, I realized it was a mixture of many spices. Look at some of the ingredients found in ras-el-hanout: ground cumin, ground ginger, turmeric, salt, sugar, ground black pepper, cinnamon, ground coriander, cayenne, ground allspice, ground fennel and ground cloves. I looked up a few supermarkets and found we could purchase it at WholeFoods Market. The decision was made, we would have a "Greek Night".
Normally, we like to cook every portion of the evening's meal from appetizer to dessert. We had a busy Saturday and decided we would make some portions of the meal and purchase the rest. We chose:
Appetizers: Lemon Hummus and Tabouli Salad with Baked Pita Chips (store bought)
Dinner: Moroccan-Spiced Pastitsio with a Greek Salad (Friends Food Family kitchen)
Dessert: Chocolate Fudge Cake (from White's Cafe and Pastry Shop in Brockton- YUM!)
We went to Wholefoods and found the ras-el-hanout and all the other ingredients we needed for the evening. When we got home, I couldn't wait to smell the spice and I will say, it was amazing. I love the smell of cinnamon and allspice and it was just heavenly. Everyone who came in that night had to smell the ras-el-hanout. It was the topic of conversation for dinner, it really made the meal.
The Moroccan-Spiced Pastitsio with Lamb and Feta was SOOO good. The dish was complex with flavor as there was lamb and mint, cinnamon and feta. It was a delicious comfort food that was so much more. This was a dinner that when you looked around the room, not one plate had food left and people returned for seconds. Everyone loved it. Different made the difference.
Sometimes when you make food that is far out of our comfort zone, in ingredients and taste, it becomes an instant success, leaving you to crave more. The next time you are serving a group of 8-10, take the opportunity to "wow" your friends and family with something completely different.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/4 cups of chopped red onion
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 pound of ground lamb
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes in juice
2 tablespoons of dried mint (we had fresh and used about 5 tablespoons)
1 1/2 tablespoons of ras-el-hanout
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
3 teaspoons of ground cumin, divided
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
3 cups of whole milk, divided
8 tablespoons (1 stick) of unsalted butter, divided
6 tablespoons of all purpose flour
3 large eggs, separated
6 ounces of feta cheese, crumbled
1 pound of penne rigate
1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Look for ras-el-hanout at specialty foods stores (we found it at Wholefoods Market) or order it online at adrianascaravan.com.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add lamb; cook until brown, breaking into small pieces, about 8 minutes. Stir in tomatoes with juice, mint, ras-el-hanout, tomato paste, 21/2 teaspoons cumin, and cinnamon. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until lamb mixture is thick, stirring often, 15 to 18 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, bring 2 cups milk to simmer in medium saucepan. Remove from heat; cover to keep warm. Melt 6 tablespoons butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour; whisk until smooth. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until roux is pale golden, whisking often, 3 to 4 minutes. Gradually add warm milk to roux, whisking until sauce is smooth. Whisk 1 cup milk and 3 egg yolks in medium bowl; whisk into sauce. Whisk in feta and 1/2 teaspoon cumin. Bring sauce to boil, whisking often. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until slightly thickened, mashing with potato masher to break up cheese, about 5 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.
DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill. Rewarm over low heat, whisking often, before using.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter deep 14-cup baking dish. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain pasta; return to same pot. Mix 2 tablespoons butter into pasta. Add egg whites and 1/4 cup Parmesan; stir to blend. Spread 4 cups pasta in dish. Spread lamb mixture over. Top with remaining pasta. Spoon sauce over; sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan. Place dish on rimmed baking sheet. Bake pastitsio until heated through, about 40 minutes.
This dish will serve 8-10 people.