“AAh...Fotini’s macaroni…” This is what my dad says every time a plate of baked pasta is set in front of him. I have heard this woman mentioned throughout my childhood, and even now, her name still pops up every time. (Then he lets out a sigh)
My mom would remain placid and the meal would proceed; finally, I inquired about this Fotini person to my aunt Lucette, who lives in Denmark; (dad is not prone to anecdotes or small talk).
Fotini was the Greek cook who lived with my dad’s family for 30 years in Egypt. She was the daughter of a Greek orthodox priest and a native of Samos; she became like a member of the family. My dad and his sister would call her Fotnakimou and loved her dearly. She only spoke Greek and had no interest in speaking anything else, so the entire family became conversant in Greek (or they wouldn’t eat probably); she was exceptionally gifted and made an outstanding continental-style cuisine, including a macaroni dish that she covered in a homemade phyllo dough and baked in the oven (which left an indelible mark on my dad).
When phlebitis and old-age came, she decided to move back to Samos; she went to the bank to collect thirty years worth of earnings, carefully saved up in gold coins; the bank teller handed her a wad of paper bills; she saw these, shrieked and promptly fainted.
She was brought back to consciousness, put on a ship and went home, without her gold, but with paper bills instead.
This is my take on Fotini’s macaroni; it is pasta, Lebanese-style, with minced lamb and kashkaval cheese. I encased the whole thing in phyllo, since that’s what my aunt said Fotini used to do. (Except hers was homemade)
What is Kashkaval cheese?
It is a sheep’s milk cheese, comes from Bulgaria (Romania, Macedonia) and is loved, just loved in Lebanon; I used to eat it on a daily basis with pita bread and tomato slices. It is available at middle-eastern stores. In Lebanon, it is called kashkawan.
INGREDIENTS: 8 to 10 servings
- 1 1/2 pounds of spaghetti
- olive oil, as needed
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, mashed with a dash of salt
- 1 pound of lamb, ground
- 3 cups of lamb broth (or meat or veal broth)
- 4 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or 1 box of Pomi (or something similar)
- a handful of pine nuts, toasted in skillet with a tad of butter
- 3 cups (or more) of Kashkaval cheese (or Provolone or Fontina cheese), grated coarsely
- Step One: Heat a skillet and fry the meat, using two spoons to break up into small pieces if it clumps together. Drain the meat by dumping it in a strainer. Fry the onion in hot oil and add the meat to the onion. Season with salt, pepper, cinnamon and allspice. Add the chopped tomatoes, the lamb or meat stock and cook the mixture for about 30 minutes. Add the chopped garlic the last 5 minutes of cooking. Adjust seasoning.
- Step Two: Cook the spaghetti until al dente and cover the pasta with the sauce, coating it evenly. Add the shredded kashkaval cheese and toss the pasta to coat it evenly with the cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Step Three: Grease the bundt pan; spread one phyllo sheet on the diagonal, pressing to let it take on the shape of the pan. Butter the sheet (or spray); add 5 more sheets, covering the entire surface of the bundt pan, including the neck of the pan.
- Delicately so as not to tear the phyllo dough, add the pasta in several scoops. Fold the phyllo dough over the pasta, adding one or two sheets if necessary to make sure the pan is fully enclosed. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on a flat surface for about 5 minutes. When ready to serve, flip over onto a serving platter.
NOTE: The actual spaghetti is not very wet; the sauce and the cheese keep it moist but it is not swimming in sauce!
I am participating with this post in the 5 Star Makeover for Pasta: