Feta and Sausage Mac and Cheese
This is a dish that's not very famous here in Greece. Perhaps the reason is the abundance of other Greek casserole dishes.
Moussaka, Pastitsio and Giouvetsi are the most popular ones, but there are also many other casseroles as well. In Greek baked dishes, we sometimes use béchamel (like the one used in Mac and Cheese), sometimes eggs, ham, vegetables, sausages etc. These are “pasta in the oven” dishes as we call them here (zymarika sto fourno).
So…we do love Mac and Cheese dishes; we simply don't know they’re called this way abroad :)
The classic Mac and Cheese, which is pasta with cheese (most of the times Cheddar), mixed with béchamel (and usually baked in the oven) is the absolute American comfort food as we learned over the years. And rightfully so, since it's so simple and yet so darn delicious! The dish's origin is actually English, but it became more popular in the States as it seems. A casserole filled with Mac and Cheese is a great opportunity for a wonderful family meal.
Who can resist the combination of mac and cheese? This quick and easy pasta dish combines the creamy bechamel cheese sauce with the softness of pasta, giving to the dish a delicious gooey texture; a match made in heaven!
Cheddar is the most popular cheese used in this dish, as mentioned before. There are also many other cheeses you can use however, like Gruyere, Monterey Jack etc. Here in Greece we love Graviera and Kaseri, both of which make a molten ambrosia when combined with pasta. For this recipe we chose a high quality British sharp Cheddar though, to keep it more traditional.
For this mac and cheese recipe we decided to add something Greek though (of course you probably guessed this already); we added the Greek pork sausages that are called Horiatiko Loukaniko. These are delicious traditional sausages that may include leeks, orange zest, wine and many many spices, like wholespice, thyme, oregano etc. You can find them everywhere here, but they're pretty hard to find abroad. Don't worry; you can use Italian sausages instead. They're similar to the Greek ones, so the flavor will be more less the same. We used mild-flavored sausages in our recipe, but you can also use spicy ones if you prefer.
Why did we add the sausages? The combination of sausage and cheese is simply amazing; plus, they add an interesting texture and lots of flavor to the dish.
The other Greek ingredient was feta. A barrel-aged, traditional rustic feta, is elevating this casserole to a whole new level. If you never tried it before, add those feta cubes (like we do here) on top of everything and you won't regret it!
Finally, our secret for an amazing mac and cheese crust, is adding smoked paprika to breadcrumbs. We make our own fresh breadcrumbs from stale bread (see how in the preparation section of the recipe). Try the quantity we suggest here at first, and increase it to suit your taste. If you don't have stale bread though, you can also use panko breadcrumbs. You can always make mac and cheese on the stove top, but we prefer to bake it ourselves. It’s definitely worth the extra time; every time. You can't substitute this amazing crust. You simply can’t :)
Make sure to cook the pasta al dente, because it will continue to cook while baking. Regarding the warm milk suggested elsewhere, we don't do that. We simply take it out of the fridge before we start cooking the sausages so that it won't be very cold. And using a whisk we never had any issues (like lumps) with our sauce.
This is definitely the perfect choice for a yummy food when you want to spoil yourself and your loved ones with a treat :) So, when in need of a little comfort food, this is the absolute recipe!
- 250g / 8oz /0.5lb uncooked elbow macaroni (you can also use another short pasta, but elbow macaroni is better for this dish)
- 200-250g / 7-8oz / 0.4-0.5lb Greek or Italian pork sausage (preferably not spicy)
- 15g / 0.5oz (1 tablespoon) butter, unsalted, to grease the pan *
- 120-140g / 4-5oz (1 medium sized) onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 125ml (1/2 cup) brandy
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano
- 1 teaspoon paprika (preferably smoked)
- salt, pepper
For the bechamel sauce:
- 75g / 2.5oz (1/2 cup) all purpose flour
- 100g / 3.5oz (7 tablespoons) butter, unsalted *
- 750ml (3 cups) milk
- 200g / 7oz shredded cheddar (you can use mild or sharp)
- a little salt, nutmeg
For the crust:
- 65g / 2.3oz (1 cup) Panko or coarse dried breadcrumbs (see preparation to make your own using 1 slice of stale white bread)
- 250g / 8oz /0.5lb feta, in cubes or crumbled
- 50g / 1.7oz (1/2 cup) grated cheddar
- 1 teaspoon paprika (preferably smoked)
* You will need 1 stick of butter (115g / 4oz) in total, 7/8 for the sauce and 1/8 to grease the pan.
If you want to make your own coarse breadcrumbs (we totally recommend it), cut a slice of stale white bread in cubes and pulse the cubes to crumbs, using a food processor. When ready, add a little salt, 1 teaspoon of paprika and pulse for a few more seconds to incorporate (pic.1). If using store-bought breadcrumbs then simply put them in a small bowl and add the paprika. Mix well. Remove the casings from the sausages (the membrane around the meat). Chop in small pieces. Grease a medium sized ceramic (or Pyrex glass) baking pan with one tablespoon of butter (pic. 2).
Boil the pasta al dente in salted water (al dente is usually 1 minute less than the package’s instructions. You don’t want them to get very soft). Drain and set aside (pic. 3).
Place a medium sized saucepan (or a medium sized pot) over medium heat. Don’t use a Teflon nonstick pan/pot in this recipe, as you’ll be using a whisk later on. Add the onion and the sausage (pic. 4). Crumble the sausage into pieces with a spatula and stir, until the onion gets translucent.
At this point add the rest of the paprika, the oregano and the garlic (pic. 5) and keep stirring for a few seconds, until fragrant. Pour the brandy over the sausages-onions mix and cook for 2-3 minutes more, until most of the brandy is evaporated (pic. 6).
At this point remove the mixture from the saucepan, add salt and pepper and keep aside. Preheat the oven at 180 degrees C / 360 F.
Return the used saucepan on the stovetop (do not wipe it off) and add the rest of the butter (the 7 tablespoons, pic.7). When the butter begins to bubble, add the flour (pic. 8). Whisk constantly until it’s incorporated.
At this point, slowly pour the milk into the flour-butter mixture (the roux), while whisking continuously (pic. 9). Cook until this sauce lightly thickens (pic. 10). Add a little salt and nutmeg (optional).
Remove from heat and add the cheddar (pic. 11). Stir until it's incorporated and melted. Add the sausage-onions mixture (pic. 12) and stir.
Add the pasta (pic. 13) and again, stir -gently- to incorporate. When all the ingredients are combined (pic. 14) pour into the greased baking pan (pic. 15).
Spread the feta over the surface; add the paprika-flavored breadcrumbs and the rest of the cheddar (the 1/2 cup that's left, pic. 16). Bake for 25 minutes, in the middle rack, until a wonderful crust has formed.
Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Serve with a lettuce salad on the side. Kali Oreksi!
1. You can add diced tomatoes (seeds removed) before baking, to make this more interesting. Chopped spinach and arugula are also great with this dish; add them before baking, if using. Finally, some other suggestions are fresh chopped parsley or basil.
2. You can substitute cheddar for a less fatty cheese if you want to lower the calorie intake. You can also use various cheese mixes for different flavor.
3. For those who love seafood: you can also make this recipe with shrimp or crab instead of sausages.