Spaghetti cake

April 30, 2010  •  Category: ,


“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 Kashkavalcheese?

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


  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:


106 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Devaki says:

    Dear Joumana – What a wonderful story…it was a bit deja vu. We had a ‘Fontini’ in our home too growing up 🙂 The pasta has the most delightful ingredients and I am definitely going to buy the cheese when I go to the halal market this weekend to get mutton (baby goat)…can’t wait. It is long overdue and I can almost see bellies being rubbed after the meal!

    Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  2. Angie's Recipes says:

    They just took Fotini’s gold coins and gave her a bunch of paper bills instead?? HOW COULD THE BANK DO THAT WITH THEIR CUSTOMERS?????? Oh GOD….no wonder my mum never trusts the banks…

  3. peteformation says:

    Haven’t tried cooking macoroni with lamb. This looks delicious!

  4. sweetlife says:

    what a great story..she fainted really?? oh my lol, great recipe as always..


  5. Ivy says:

    Funny story about Fotini. This cheese is also made in Cyprus and is called kaskavalli. When I made a post about Greek and Cypriot cheeses I found information about this cheese and it seems to have originated from the Italian caccio cavallo.

  6. Sarah Galvin (All Our Fingers in the Pie) says:

    What a great story! She knew she had the power! Poor gal though, expecting to see her gold! This is a lot like pastitsio.

  7. Sushma Mallya says:

    Recipe seems nice, will try veg version of this

  8. Maninas says:

    I really loved your Fotini story!

    Btw, is the method of the recipe missing, or am I just missing it?

  9. Namitha says:

    Oh poor Fotini !!! Another great recipe from you…It looks delicious

  10. A Canadian Foodie says:

    My daughter would LOVE this recipe. I am sending her the link now.

  11. deana says:

    Love the story and the recipe is getting made this weekend… you answered the question that was on my mind… if not chicken… what? Wonderful combination but I wonder what Greeks used before tomatoes!

  12. SYLVIA says:

    Spectacular Jouman!
    This recipe is wonderful and very elegant to display, I have to admit that I select meals to make for dinner parties based on how impressively they present and are healthy, I am just that kind of girl. Sit back and enjoy all the oohs and ahs of your guests as you bring this dish to the table.It is almost too pretty to eat, and it is very appealing to the eye. thank you kindly.

  13. melrose says:

    Kackavalj…reminds me of my childhood:))) Here (in German) is very seldom.

  14. The Nervous Cook says:

    Oh wow — what a great story, and what an incredible, unusual and delicious-looking dish! I love the cross-section photo of the sliced spaghetti cake.

  15. rebecca says:

    oh she sounds like a fun lady and wow this is the coolest thing ever adore it

  16. Tangled Noodle says:

    Such a lovely reminiscence about Fotini (except for the unfortunate episode at the bank). This spaghetti cake is so striking – I must make this . . .!

  17. Sushma Mallya says:

    looks like a lot of work but worth making it..looks very beautiful and so unique

  18. sophia says:

    Love the story behind this dish…and a new cheese introduced! Ooh la la! kashkaval cheese…I love all the new things I’m learning from your blog.

  19. Hélène (Cannes) says:

    Les recettes accompagnées de belles histoires familiales sont toujours les meilleures, pour moi ! Et ce plat est absolument terrible ! Je dois juste aller me renseigner un peu plus sur ce fromage, pour pouvoir essayer à mon tour … En tout cas bravo, c’est beau, c’est bon ? Que demander de plus ? Je reviendrai souvent me promener par ici, je crois bien ! ;o)
    Bonne journée

  20. Cherine says:

    Loved reading your post! And this spaghetti cake looks fabulous!!
    Kashkaval is my favorite cheese!!

  21. The KitchenMasochist says:

    This looks easy enough to make but as always, Middle Eastern ingredients, let alone Bulgarian cheese, are pretty hard to come by here in the Far East.
    I really need to bug my mom about another care package.

    They do something like this with noodles at Japanese sushi houses in this region. They take soba noodles instead of rice and make them into sushi rolls. It looks quite beautiful once they’re sliced.

  22. Hannah says:

    The only baked pasta dish I’ve ever come across is lasagna… how boring! This looks amazing – the cross-section shot makes me giggle for some reason. All those squiggly worms!

  23. Cathy at Wives with says:

    This looks absolutely delicious. Love pasta and lamb and your story that goes along with it. I hope I can find this cheese.

  24. noobcook says:

    I don’t really have a sweet tooth so this has to be one of the most droolworthy cakes I have seen in a while. Super creative!

  25. Vanessa says:

    A wonderful story and an amazing recipe. I love discovering new things, espcially with phyllo. Your photos are so beautiful and inspiring.

  26. Amy @ cookbookmaniac says:

    THis is such and interesting and refreshing way of serving pasta. Your photos make the dish look so delicious!

  27. Nancy says:

    This is wonderful! I can see why this dish made an indelible impression on your dad. I would love to try the kashkaval cheese, too. There is a cafe called Kashkaval in nyc (on 9th ave in the mid-50s) that serves terrific Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food. They offer a large selection of to-go items, including cheeses, so next time I’m in the neighborhood I will look for kashkaval.

  28. Turkish Food Passion says:

    I have never seen such a recipe for pasta, but it looks spectacular!

  29. choupette88 says:

    Je te souhaite plein de bonheur pour ce 1er mai ! Dommage que le soleil ne soit pas au rendez-vous…
    Bonne journée

  30. Doc says:

    Awesome dish! Thanks, I am really getting an education on your site with the recipes. Keep up the fantastic work (and I forgive your pre-made phyllo tresspass;-) )

  31. sippitysup says:

    I love how well you wove taht story into the glorious food. This cake reminds me of a sweet version I ate in Cratia. I was so impressed that I asked for the recipe. I got the recipe, but unfortunately it is in Croation and I just look at it trying to figure it out! Someday I’ll get it translated. GREG

  32. recettes gourmandes says:

    belle histoire, j’ai bien voyagé dans le temps.
    Le plat est excelent , rien à dire, très originale, j’aime beaucoup, bravo

  33. asia jo says:

    What a lovely family story …. I love when there is a personal story attached to a recipe … that makes cooking even more exciting 🙂 Your pasta cake looks beautiful and I would love to be eating a piece of it now 🙂 xxx

  34. Valerie says:

    funny that you came across my little hidden place (thank you for your nice words) … because Lebanese food has always been (since I tried it the first time) one of my three favorite world food 🙂
    therefore i’m delighted to click back and discover your site !

  35. Marina says:

    Merci pour ton commentaire sur mon blog. Et très sincèrement je suis aussi ravie de découvrir le tien qui tout à fait dans l’esprit que je recherche.. Je le mets dans mes favoris. Cette recette est terrible, et le kaskhaval est aussi un fromage que l’on trouve en Serbie et que j’achète ici dans la supérette turque où je m’approvisionne…alors inutile de te dire que je vais tester cette recette très très rapidement! Bonne soirée et merci!!

  36. Maninas says:

    Gosh – it looks very very impressive! Love the photos!

  37. OysterCulture says:

    I can’t say what I liked more, the story of Fotini or this incredible sounding recipe you shared with us. I have to make it – your dad’s commitment to this dish and the story of the fainting reminds me of the Greek dish, imam baildi, apropros of nothing. It translates to mean the “priest has fainted” because the dish was so exceptional, which this dish sounds like it is akin to. Thank you!

  38. Geetika says:

    That’s a gorgeous mold! I will try making a vegetarian version 🙂

  39. lisa says:

    What a fantastic unique recipe! The other night I made standard baked penne, but this looks and sounds wonderful and so much more interesting. Funny story about Fotina and you dad, I love recipes that have memories attached to them.

  40. heni says:

    O wow this is delicious family style dish! I saw something similar on Picky palate where she is used garlic breadstick dough instead of the phyllo you are using. I was not really impressed with it … but as I see yours … esp with the Kashkaval cheese … this is looking good to me!

  41. Toni says:

    I LOVE this story! And the dish makes me weak in the knees…..I want to try this!

  42. kim says:

    So beautiful. This would go great with rice I’m sure.

  43. Margaret says:

    THIS looks so interesting. And so delicious. On my to make list.

  44. Grapefruit says:

    What a wonderfully unique way of serving pasta. Love it! And loved the story – esp. the part where she fainted, lol.

  45. Lazaro says:

    Fantastic pasta dish and a wonderful entry into the 5 star pasta makeover challenge. Good luck to you. Cheers!

  46. tom tall clover farm says:

    What a fun story, and an equally delicious recipe. I’ve never had such a dish, but look forward to changing that very soon. I just had some delicous lamb this evening, and it just wasn’t enough. So guess what’s on the menu for Sunday dinner? Perhaps Spaghetti cake! Thank you.

  47. Conor @Hold the Beef says:

    Hehe, poor old Fotini with her new fangled notes! I hope she came to see the blessing of not having to carry 5 tonne of coins with her 😉

    I agree with others that this is a very interesting looking dish, and I think if it were served to me I’d be sighing like your dad (but my sigh would be in pleasure at the dish in front of me, not in my memory!)

  48. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella says:

    Gorgeous cross section pic Joumana, you know as I was reading it (and good that Fotini wasn’t a former girlfriend of your dad’s for your mum’s sake!) I was so intrigued to see what it would look like! 😀

  49. Nicola says:

    This looks magnificent! Really tasty looking – I bet the softness of the spaghetti and crispness of the filo go together beautifully. We buy Kashkval regularly; I never looked at the ingredients so I didn’t realise I have been eating sheep’s milk cheese!

  50. andara says:

    Cela semble délicieux ! Je ne connaissais pas du tout !

  51. Simply Life says:

    WOW! This is so beautiful I might actually feel bad cutting into it (but not bad enough) 🙂 It looks amazing!

  52. Joanne says:

    I am seriously groaning here. Really. I love baked pasta normally, but with lamb and this delicious cheese? Amazing.

  53. bunkycooks says:

    What a great story! I have not seen pasta prepared like this before. What a beautiful dish.

  54. Nadji says:

    Encore une fois, une recette qui sorte de l’ordinaire.
    Je vais voir si mon magasin orientale vend ce fromage ou pas.
    En attendant, j’enregistre ta recette.
    A bientôt et bon dimanche.

  55. miss cook says:

    hello, very cook…

  56. Carol says:

    What a great story! Fotini’s macaroni looks fantastic!

  57. Dana says:

    What a lovely story! I’ve never thought of baking pasta in phyllo before. It looks like Fontini was on to something!

  58. Linda says:

    What a beautiful dish! Thanks for adding the substitutions in the recipe. I live in a small town and occasionally have trouble finding some ingredients. I can’t wait to try this recipe!

  59. Barbara says:

    Really interesting post, Joumana! I loved the story about Fontini. Did she put lamb and Kashkaval cheese in hers too?
    I’ve worked with phyllo and really enjoy it. Never have seen it used in a bundt pan though…really a brilliant idea. It makes a perfect enclosure for your delicious spaghetti mixture. What a presentation! And knowing you, it’s going to be heavenly to taste too.

  60. Faith says:

    What a fabulous story…and what a lovely dish! I love how it is encased in phyllo, and the pine nuts on top are so pretty.

  61. Diane-plop says:

    Magnifique cette tourte de pâtes aux tomates et fromage… Vraiment très réussi.
    La coupe est très belle et me mets l’eau à la bouche (mais pour moi ce sera sans l’agneau, car je ne mange pas de viande)…
    Est-ce que tu blogue depuis le Texas ?
    Très bonne fin de week-end,
    Patricia – La Table de Pénélope

  62. peteformation says:

    Very good and nice presentation for a Spaghetti dish!

  63. Kirstin says:

    This is so clever! The end result looks like a dessert, I would love to make this to trick some of my friends with.

  64. nazarina says:

    I would simply love to savor a piece of this delicious nous! I love everything all the way from the ingredients to the final presentation. Reminds me of my previous posts where I just love the challenge of making everything in non traditional cookware LOL!
    About that story….It would most probably have been better for her to take the gold back to Greece instead of paper, especially since that economy has collapsed!

  65. Mary says:

    I have never seen this dish before and I’m sorely tempted to try it and see how it tastes. It looks beautiful. I hope you are having a wonderful day. Blessings…Mary

  66. payette6202 says:

    Superbe cette recette!, Quelle originalité!

  67. Foodycat says:

    That is so interesting! I’d love to try it, although it does sound a bit tricky. I wonder if kashkaval is the same as Sicilian caciocavallo? Linguistically related, anyway!

  68. Diane-plop says:

    Merci pour ta réponse. C’est formidable de vivre au Etats-Unis, notamment au Taxas et de pouvoir également retourner de temps en temps vivre au Liban.
    Quelle chance…
    J’ai vu récemment une émission de t.v. sur la cuisine Libanaise.
    Connais-tu des livres de cuisine Libanaise édités en Français où je pourrais découvrir cette excellente gastronomie… mais sans viande !!!
    A bientôt,
    Patricia – La Table de Pénélope

  69. Jagruti says:

    what a beautiful pasta dish..never seen this dish..

  70. Linda says:

    I love your blog! I will be checking it often.

  71. kellypea says:

    This is the most amazing recipe! At first I thought it was a dessert and then I began to read. I’m still smiling about the story of the Greek cook and her coins. I’d love to try this recipe 🙂

  72. 5 Star Foodie says:

    Wow, an amazing spaghetti cake, I love that the whole thing is encased in phyllo, how delicious!

  73. Doria says:

    C’est une recette très originale !!!!!
    Bravo pour cette réalisation !
    Je te souhaite une très belle soirée,
    Bisous, Doria

  74. Koko says:

    What an amazing dish! I love the story, too.

  75. Velva says:

    I love these kind of family stories and I love when you share them with us. The story brings this dish to life-what a wonderful dish.

  76. Stella says:

    Yum Joumana!
    I can see why your Dad feels the way he does about this cake. For some reason, I’m scared to make this, but I really want to… I’m going to look through the instructions for carefully.

  77. fimère says:

    tu m’épates avec tes plats très originaux, chez toi on est sûr de pouvoir régaler nos papilles et nos pupilles, j’aime beaucoup
    bonne soirée

  78. Me, Myself & Pie says:

    Wow. So much better than spaghetti with Prego! This is beautiful and I can just imagine how tasty it is!

  79. Skip to Malou says:

    It’s interesting to put that phylo dough over pasta… it takes a lot of TLC i suppose to do that, and yeah i enjoyed reading the story too…
    great recipe and great writing! kudos!

  80. Devaki says:

    Dear Joumana – Never has it happened that I have visited your blog and not learned something.

    I am sorry to sound like a broken record but I am always in awe of your cooking skills and your creativity.

    Once again this is a marvelous preparation with the most wonderful flavors. Pasta in phyllo! Who would have thought? Only you!

    Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  81. Anita says:

    I love your stories! I haven’t had that dish in ages. My mom used to make it in a casserole style, also baked but without the wrap. So cool 🙂

  82. Kristen says:

    what a surprise. I was sure the spaghetti cake was not the first picture, but now I am intrigued. This looks delicious!

  83. souska says:

    Very nice and I want a peace.Kisses

  84. Erica says:

    Wow! That looks so beautiful!Love the presentation….Great dish as usual 🙂

  85. Marie says:

    Now that’s a thing of beauty!

  86. Muneeba says:

    Oh I LOVE this pasta dish … never had it, but I know I could eat a lot of it!!

  87. Laila says:

    This looks absolutely delicious .. and the story connected to it makes it all the more interesting 🙂

  88. Rosa says:

    That cake is very original and looks really scrumptious! I love the idea!



  89. Katie@Cozydelicious says:

    This looks incredible! What a beautiful dish. I adore kashkaval. I worked with a group of Bulgarian girls years ago and they would have it shipped, since we couldn;t find it anywhere in New England. But since this cost a fortune, we found that soaking feta in water for a few hours to draw out the salt was a pretty close stand-in. Of course, when I went to Bulgaria to visit my former coworkers I learned that the real thing is SO much better!

  90. Magdalena says:

    You know, in Poland we have a cheese called “kaszkwal” but I doubt it has something to do with your cheese (besides the similar name).
    This pasta cake idea is very interesting,I hope I could do this one day….I have never experimented with phyllo (although I know this kind of preparation). Kind regards!

  91. Fatima says:

    Wow this is one of those must try recipes and it will be one that i thoroughly enjoy, thanks for the great idea of spaghetti cooked in phyllo. Absolute magic.

  92. Mimi says:

    No wonder your dad loved this pasta.

  93. Joan Nova says:

    Lovely story about Fotini — and I’m totally in love with this spaghetti cake. It really looks delicious.

  94. TastyTrix says:

    Oh wow. This is like magic! It’s the timpani from Big Night, Lebanese style. At the risk of sounding over-the-top,(I can be a bit of a drag queen!) this is kind of showstopping.

  95. Jamie says:

    Just a brilliant beautiful pasta dish. In my house, this would be made for a special celebration meal it is so wonderful. I love the Lebanese flavors in it. Perfect for Natasha’s 5 Star Foodie pasta contest.

  96. Maria says:

    Wow, this looks absolutely amazing! I love everything about this Spaghetti cake … and adore the story behind it.

    I have made an Angel Hair pasta pie a number of times but always use a thicker puff pastry to encase the pie and make it in a springform pan. But now I really want to make one with phyllo and showcase it in a bundt pan … it looks so much nicer your way!

  97. Amber @Almost Vegan says:

    WOW, what an impressive dish!!

  98. domi says:

    Quel délicieux gâteau, tout comme je les aiment…un article qui mérite son nombre de commentaires, bises et belle soirée

  99. T2VN says:

    Thank you for the great article. Let’s continue to grow.

  100. alobuta says:

    Your food is great, write more about other dishes too

  101. bob says:

    Regardless of whether it’s far delivered from bovine, sheep or goat’s milk, the Bulgarian Kashkaval Cheese is reasonable to get ready for toasts, sandwiches, pizzas, ground or bread-scraps stock.
    Kashkaval Cheese is a splendid wellspring of Vitamin B, calcium and protein .

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