Weekday wonders: pasta bake with broccoli, spring onions and sambal oelek

Pasta bake. Not a single Brit I have met has had a positive experience from a pasta bake. Bad memories from school dinners, or what is it about?

Where I went to school it was one of the few dishes I could actually enjoy a little. Most lunches consisted of a tiny bit of whatever was on offer, because you had to try it, and crispbread with butter and barbecue spice (classy, I know) to not die from hunger in the afternoon.

I promise you though, that this type of pasta bake is miled apart from school dinners and is not boring at all. It is a super easy weekday supper and instead of making a bèchamel I make a creme fraiche based sauce which I like to hot up a little with chilli sauce or in this case, sambal oelek.

To make this dish even better, choose nice dried pasta instead of the cheap ones on offer. I highly recommende De Cecco, which I always use.

Pasta bake with broccoli, spring onions and sambal oelek, serves 4

500 g De Cecco pasta

375 g broccoli, cut into florets

1/2 bunch spring onions, chopped

300 ml creme fraiche

1,5-2 tbsp sambal oelek

salt, white pepper

about 300 ml grated cheddar

Cook the broccoli florets in salted water for just a minute. Pick them up with a slotted spoon and leave to drain. Add more salt to the boiling water and then add the pasta. Cook for 3 minutes less than it says on the packet. Drain and rinse with hot water to get rid of the starch. 

Heat up the creme friache in a small saucepan and add the sambal oelek, salt and pepper. Add about 1/3 of the cheese and let it melt into the sauce. Mix the sauce and the pasta and pour the mixture into buttered ovenproof dish. Distribute the broccoli, scatter the spring onions on top and then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake for about 20 minutes in 200C oven.

Delizie alla Romagnola

I spied this new (for me) type of pasta bake on a Swedish food blog. You take fresh lasagne sheets, add cheese and ham (and possibly courgette as well, which I forgot), roll them up, cut them in half and place them in a gratin dish. Add tomato sauce, bechamel and grated cheese. Really nice and more upscale than your regular pasta bake. And it is great to serve with bread to soak up the sauce.

 Delizie alla Romagnola, serves 2

Adapted from this recipe.

8 fresh lasagne sheets

6 large slices good quality smoked ham

24 slices medium hard cheese, I used cheddar and Emmenthal cheese

50 ml grated cheese (same as above)

Tomat sauce:

400 g passata

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/2 tso sugar

2 tsp dried Italian herbs

salt, black pepper

Bechamel sauce:

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp plain flour

500 ml milk

grated nutmeg

1 dash of concentrated chicken stock

50 ml grated cheese

salt, white pepper

Place about 3 slices of cheese on each lasagne sheet. Divide the ham between the sheets and put it on top of the cheese. Roll them up from the shortest side. Place the rolls on a flat surface, i.e. a chopping board or plate with a weight on top so the rolls will keep their shape.

Add all the ingredients for the tomato sauce into a sauce pan. Bring to the boil and let it thicken while stirring, for 15 minutes.

Melt the butter for the bechamel in a non stick pan. Add the flour while whisking. Add some of the milk and stir with a whisk. Once the sauce has thickened a little add more milk and repeat this until you have used up all the milk and the sauce is thick. Add the cheese and let it melt. Season to taste with stock concentrate, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Grease a gratin dish (10x20cm). Cut the lasagne sheet rolls in half and place them with the cut upwards. Pour over the tomato sauce, followed by the bechamel. Sprinkle grated cheese on top and bake in 200C for 15-20 minutes. Serve with bread/garlic bread and a nice salad.