Beef and Feta Pasta Bake

by Cate on March 9, 2009

Beef and Feta Pasta BakeI remember a few years ago on a cooking bulletin board, I mentioned that a recipe I made totally bombed.  One of the members responded by asking, “With all the cooking and baking we all do, can’t you tell from looking at the recipe if it will be good or not?”  The question bothered me for awhile.  Yes, I cook and bake a lot.  Should I be able to tell?  Well, at first glance I can rule out many recipes very quickly… either because it’s an ingredient one or more of us don’t like, the recipe takes too long for the time I have allotted on that given day, the recipe doesn’t suit the need I am filling, whatever.  But can I tell if the recipe is going to bomb before I even make it?  No, I can’t.  Should I be able to?  Well, no, actually I don’t think so.  There are just so many different variables when making a recipe … altitude, oven temperature, and whether or not you follow a recipe explicitly (you all know I don’t sift my flour!) for example.  Martha Stewart’s recipes are a perfect example.  Her recipes have quite the reputation for not working.  Given the amounts of people that can attest to it, you’d think they all could tell if a recipe could work before making it too, no?

And to further the point, what is deemed successful?  If it’s palatable?  If it’s an OMG recipe?  If your kid will eat it?  And whether or not you can tell if a recipe is going to work, you still can’t tell what it’s going to taste like, at least not all the time.  Some flavor combinations will surprise you.  Some will be predictable.

He asked that question a good 3-4 years ago, and you can see it still nags at me.  As I made tonight’s dinner, a new Rachael Ray recipe for Beef and Feta Pasta Bake, I remembered his question.  Why?  Because who knew that putting nearly a pound of sharp feta cheese into a pasta dish would render it so creamy, the feta would practically lose its bite?  Not I.  Nor could I tell just by reading the recipe.

This particular recipe requires you to first make a meat sauce.  A meat sauce that has to simmer for two hours.  So a little planning is definitely in order.  The perk about your two hour meat sauce is that it makes about 6-7 cups, and this recipe uses half of the meat sauce, so you’ll have a remaining 3 cups to use in one of the other 3 recipes they provided in the article (February 2009 issue), or however else you want.  Right now, I stuck mine in the freezer, and will turn it into a White Bean Stew on Wednesday night, another recipe they included.

Now, the meat sauce.  Quite frankly, when I started making it, it was turning my stomach a bit.  No recipe should do that, and that I should have known from reading it.  She wants you to saute pancetta in a quarter cup of olive oil.  Seriously?  Seriously.  Cook a fatty (though yummy) meat in more fat? Can you see me shaking my head?  I didn’t read the recipe through before beginning (a lesson we could all use a reminder in) and when making it again, I would reduce the olive oil way down, if not eliminate completely.  The recipe lists the prep time for the meat sauce as 5 minutes.  There is no way you can heat the olive oil, chop the pancetta, get it crispy, chop the onion, saute it, chop and add the garlic and chop and add the celery and carrots in five minutes.  I don’t care who you are.  It didn’t take long, but please…

During the process, I was getting a little annoyed at the amount of pots and pans the recipe dirtied.  Now, admittedly, this could be because my sink was completely clear, as were the counters and dishwasher, before I started, and I hated having the mess leftover at the end for what should be a simple (hello? Rachael Ray?) recipe, but I soldiered on.  I was definitely thinking I wouldn’t be making this recipe again because for all the work, it couldn’t be worth it.  It’s just a casserole, for pete’s sake!

But then I put it on the table and started serving everyone dinner.  Always the kids first, then The Husband.  Tonight Nick asked me why I always do it in that order.  “You should be first, Mommy.  You worked so hard to make it.”  God, I love that kid.  I told him it’s just polite to do it that way, and in order of importance, the kids need the food first.  He’s too cute sometimes, even at the ripe old age of 6-1/2.

I took the first bite.  So creamy.  Delicious.  Unexpected.  And it just proves my point that you can’t tell what a recipe is going to be like before you make it.  Not always.  Not every way.  With so much feta cheese, I was really expecting it to be a prominent flavor.  But it wasn’t.  It slows down and plays well with all the other components of the dish to make a well-blended, creamy casserole.

But the bottom line… would I make it again?  I’m on the fence.  The entire recipe takes 6 assorted pots, bowls and saucepans.  That might seem like a small thing, but they’re big ones.  Think of all the things you can make with six different vessels.  But don’t let that deter you.  It was really good.  The Husband did everything but lick his plate clean, and really, doesn’t that override a sink full of dishes any day?

Meat Sauce
Recipe courtesy of Susan H. Gordon
From Every Day with Rachael Ray, February 2009


Prep Time: 5 min (ha!)
Cook Time: 2 1/2 hr

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (use less or eliminate next time)
1/4 cup chopped pancetta (I used bacon)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 pounds ground beef
1/2 cup dry red wine
One 28-ounce can tomato puree
Salt and pepper

1. In a large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the pancetta and cook until the fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium, add the onion, carrot and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the beef and cook, breaking it up, until no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Stir in the wine and cook until the liquid is cooked off, about 5 minutes.

2. Stir in the tomato puree and 1 cup water; season with salt and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for the last 30 minutes, until thickened, about 2 hours. Season with salt and pepper.

Beef and Feta Pasta Bake
Recipe courtesy of Susan H. Gordon
From Every Day with Rachael Ray, February 2009

1 pound cavatappi or elbow pasta
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk, heated
3/4 pound feta cheese, crumbled
3 cups Meat Sauce (see above recipe)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until al dente; drain. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Whisk in the flour for 2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium, whisk in the hot milk and cook, whisking, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the feta. In a large bowl, combine the meat sauce, cinnamon, cloves and sugar; stir in half of the pasta. In another large bowl, stir together the feta sauce and the remaining pasta. Transfer the meat-coated pasta to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish; top with the feta-coated pasta. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.

Be Sociable, Share!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah March 9, 2009 at 11:15 pm

I totally agree. How can you look at a recipe and truly know if it’s going to work? I mean sure, you might be able to tell if there is a glaring error in the recipe, but will it work and create a delicious dish that you want? Really?

And I am learning that I shouldn’t avoid recipes because they contain ingredients that I don’t normally cook or eat … sometimes those are the best ones.

Sarahs last blog post..Don’t Call Me a Foodie


Colleen March 10, 2009 at 12:48 am

I made that Beef and Feta Pasta Bake recipe too, just a few weeks ago. It’s a lot like pastitsio, one of my personal faves, but with feta instead of pecorino and no eggy crema, it’s a bit cheaper and healthier than the original.

I decided the meat sauce at the beginning of the article wasn’t what I was looking for (with all that fat), so I substituted my own recipe there. I made only enough for the casserole and mixed the seasonings and half the pasta right into the pot (saving one bowl). I also used a saucepan large enough to add the rest of the pasta straight into the feta sauce (saving another bowl – how crazy is the person who wrote this recipe, anyway?). Hope those ideas help when you make it next time.

I agree that the result is fabulous! It’s even better as leftovers. Mmm, I should make it again.

Colleens last blog post..Meals for the Week: Lasagna Frenzy


Cate March 10, 2009 at 8:15 am

Colleen – glad you liked it too. You’re right, it is a bit like pastitsio. That reminds me, I saved one pot when I added the meat sauce to half the pasta – when I drained the pasta, I put it back in the same pot and added the meat sauce there.

Sarah – exactly. I despise anchovies, and it wasn’t until Rachael Ray said that when they are heated they disappear that I actually gave them a shot, and two of our go-to recipes include anchovies. Never would have tried the recipes otherwise.


paula March 10, 2009 at 10:30 am

I’ve blogged about over 800 recipes and I still get surprised by recipes, in both good and bad ways. It’s all part of the learning process.

I’ve also made the same recipe more than once and it doesn’t always turn out as good as the first time (of course it was great the first time or I wouldn’t have made it again). Like you said, there are just so many variables involved.

paulas last blog post..Pure evil


Kris March 10, 2009 at 12:02 pm

This looks so good! I love feta.


Amanda March 10, 2009 at 12:51 pm

If we could all tell just by looking at a recipe whether it was good or not, we would all be Rachel Rays. I think that’s what separates the recipe-followers from the recipe-creators.

For instance, the chef at the restaurant I used to work at created an appitizer of strawberries soaked in balsalmic vinegar. I visibly winced when he described it. It sounded awful. But it wasn’t! It was FABulous. He knew that the vinegar would bring out and complement the sweet in the berries. I did not. And that’s why he was the chef and I was the waitress :)

Amandas last blog post..Adult Entertainment


maris March 11, 2009 at 1:32 am

I think a lot of Rachael’s recipes are complicated – and agree that the prep times are often wayy off. I think “5 minutes” assumes that everything is chopped and crispy and all you have to do is fling it in the pan!

mariss last blog post..They’re Always After Me Lucky Charms


Mary Ellen March 11, 2009 at 12:59 pm

I laughed when I read your description of preparing the recipe. I had seen this in the recipe in the magazine, and I am so glad that you reviewed it. Thanks for sharing!!


Kris March 11, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I made this last night for dinner, but took the quick way out. I browned up my ground beef and added it to a jar of Ragu (since I get home after 4:30 in the afternoons). It was really, really good!

My family, all of whom to do eat feta cheese, gobbled it up because they didn’t know what it was.


Ashlry March 11, 2009 at 11:16 pm

I totally agree! Cooking and baking a lot gives you a lot of clues as to what you will and won’t like, but bad recipes happen! Bad days in the kitchen happen! And sometimes you just get a flop. That’s why I’m glad we live right next door to a Dominoes…JUST in case ;)

Ashlrys last blog post..Long Live The Chicken a la King!


Ashley March 11, 2009 at 11:17 pm

^ (I swear I can spell my own name btw!) ;)

Ashleys last blog post..Long Live The Chicken a la King!


Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: