I try to eat healthy most of the time. But, really, don’t we all have some comfort foods from our past that we just need to taste again to bring us home? For me, Macaroni Au Four is just that! I am a mostly Armenian girl who grew up eating mostly Armenian food, so, I always thought Macaroni Au Four was an Armenian dish with…uh…a French name?

I was a confused child. We spoke mostly Armenian and English at home and my parents also spoke in French and Arabic to really confuse us! On my first day of kindergarten, I apparently started speaking Armenian to a couple of girls. They stared at me with crinkled brows, glanced at each other and just laughed. They kept asking me what I was saying. I was so upset. I went home and told my Mom about it. That was when I found out the truth. I spoke two languages. I had no idea.

So, I guess it’s pretty clear now how I could be confused over the origin of this dish! Macaroni Au Four is basically Baked Macaroni in French. Although, this dish resembles the Greek’s Pastitsio, so maybe there is some Armenian origin there somewhere since our foods are so similar. All I know is that my Armenian Mom made it and I loved it! The crunchy top and creamy macaroni below with a uniquely spiced ground meat in between all comes together perfectly. It makes me so happy that my children look forward to it as much as I did. Whenever my son comes home from college I ask him what he’d like me to make and he always asks for this. I guess it really is food that brings you home.

This is my monstrous portion of Macaroni Au Four. My reasoning? Well, first of all, it’s so good served cold the following day (you can certainly reheat it too)! Second, this size is great for having friends over. Lastly, but possibly the real reason for such a large portion, I bought this great stoneware baking dish that I just love to use…and it’s huge!

Macaroni Au Four

Bechamel 

1/2 C. unsalted butter 
2/3 C. all purpose flour
9 C. milk 
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
salt
1/4 t. black pepper
1 egg
2 T. grated Parmesan
 
In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the flour. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes being careful not to get much color in the flour. You’ll just want it to look like a very pale golden yellow.  
 
Raise the heat to medium-high, and whisk in the milk slowly. Whisk constantly until the milk comes to a light boil. Reduce the heat immediately to low and slowly and gently cook for about 5 minutes, whisking every so often. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper, whisk a bit, then allow the béchamel to cool  while you boil the pasta and make the meat mixture.  
 
Once cooled a bit, beat the egg in a small bowl and beat in about a 1/4 C. of the semi-cooled béchamel before whisking the egg into the pot.  

Pasta

2 lbs. Fusili pasta
1 T. sea salt
olive oil

In your largest pot, bring about 8 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add the sea salt and the pasta. Refer to the package for cooking time. It should be about 9 minutes. Stir frequently until the pasta is done. Drain in a colander and drizzle with a bit of olive oil to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Give it a stir.


Meat Mixture

2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 t. allspice
salt and pepper

In a 12″ fry pan over medium-high heat, cook the ground beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until almost brown for about 5 or 6 minutes. Add the chopped onions, allspice, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for another few minutes until the beef has browned all the way through and the onions have softened. Remove from heat and set aside until the pasta has finished cooking.


Assembling the Macaroni Au Four

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 

In a large casserole dish (the one I use is 9 1/2x14x3), spread half of the pasta on the bottom. Next, add all of the meat mixture and spread it evenly over the pasta. Spread the remaining pasta evenly over the meat. Pour the béchamel over the top, covering the entire casserole. If you like, you can sprinkle just a little bit of Parmesan on top.

Bake in the oven uncovered for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for at least 10 to 15 minutes before cutting.

Notes:

  • The macaroni gets a really nice crunchy top that we love. If you don’t like it that way, you can cover the dish for most of the cooking time and remove it for the last 20 minutes.
  • This recipe can easily be cut in half to make one pound of pasta. Use a 9x13x2 casserole dish.
  • Macaroni Au Four freezes well or can sit assembled in the fridge for one day before baking.