Imqarrun or għaġin il-forn is a traditional Maltese baked pasta dish. The pasta is coated with a rich meat based sauce and cooked until the top gets super extra crunchy.
This dish is a Maltese classic, prepared in every household for lunch or dinner. With the island being so close in proximity to Italy and having inherited several aspects of its culture and traditions, we can easily say that we also adopted some of its cuisine. In fact, if you look at the Italian cuisine, especially that of Sicily, you will find several baked pasta dishes. However, this one holds a special in every Maltese person’s heart as it is one of the most loved and iconic dishes in Malta.
Every family has their own unique twist of this dish and if your nanna or mother used to make it for you, you know that no one’s will beat it! Here I’m actually sharing my mother’s recipe, which I finally managed to get almost the same as hers. Although, I have to admit, that even though I use exactly the same ingredients, there is still something that makes hers better.
A rich meat sauce is the base of everything. As it is more traditional in my family we like to use pork minced meat for the sauce. However, you can easily use a mix of pork and beef, or any other kind of minced meat. Season with plenty of herbs and a touch of curry. Once the sauce is ready, mix with cooked al dente penne or rigatoni pasta. I won’t suggest any other pasta shape as these two seems to fit this baked pasta dish the best and are what everyone in Malta uses.
Boiled eggs or no?
While I was researching this recipe and after eating a great deal of għaġin il-forn in my life, there is something that always strikes me. Eggs are an essential part of this dish, however there seems to be a discrepancy of how to mix them into this dish. You can either find recipes where you mix raw eggs directly with the sauce and pasta before baking it to achieve a creamier texture, (I will follow this method in this recipe), or else, you’ll find recipes that put chopped boiled eggs in the mixture.
I have to say that both ways of inserting the eggs are delicious and you can never go wrong with what you choose! Even my mother who makes imqarrun almost once a week varies with this, and just goes with the flow. The main difference for me is that when you put raw eggs to the mixture, the pasta has a more creamier and silkier texture, whereas if you put hard boiled eggs you have another soft texture and of course an eggier taste.
Burnt top or delicious crunchy top?
The extra cooked top is one if the main characteristics of this dish. In Malta we like to have this top extra crunchy and crispy. Actually, everyone is guilty of stealing a piece of pasta as soon as the dish comes out from the oven. In my family we like the top of the imqarrun extra crunchy and almost burnt like. However this isn’t burnt, don’t be fooled! Although, you have to be careful and not actually burn it. You have to keep a close eye on the pasta while baking.
Għaġin il-forn leftovers are the best
What’s another great thing about this dish? It almost tastes better the next day! Whenever I make it we always have to make extra as we are then looking forward to enjoy another portion the next day. For the next day, after storing it in the fridge, I like to bring it slightly to room temperature and re-heat it in the oven so to keep it crispy. However, you can easily re-heat it in a microwave.
Imqarrun / Għaġin il-forn – Maltese Baked Pasta
- 500 g penne or rigatoni pasta
- 500 g pork minced meat or mixed
- 360 ml tomato sauce (passata)
- 1 small white onion diced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tbsp tomato paste Maltese kunserva
- 1/2 tsp curry
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper extra for the top part
- 2 eggs raw or boiled*
- 125 ml milk
- 50 g parmesan cheese or kefalotiri cheese grated
- In a large pan or pot, heat the olive oil and fry the onion for a few minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and let cook for another minute.
- Add the thyme, oregano, rosemary, curry, cumin and paprika and mix well with the onion and garlic. Add the tomato paste and let it cook for about 3 minutes.
- Once the base is ready, add the pork minced meat, let cook for a few minutes until you get a nice brown colour. Season with salt and pepper.
- Lastly, add the tomato passata and the bay leaves. Bring to a light boil.
- Once you bring it to a boil, cover the pot and let it simmer on low heat for about 1 hour, stirring it occasionally so that the meat doesn't get stuck to the bottom.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C or 350°F.
- During the last half an hour, bring to a boil a pot filled with water. Once it starts to boil, season with plenty of salt. Add the pasta and cook for a minute or two less than as instructed on the package. The pasta needs to be al dente.
- Once the sauce is done, don't forget to remove the bay leaves and discard.
- Butter a baking dish. I used a glass dish with a volume of 3L. Set aside.
- Put the pasta together with the sauce and mix.
- In a separate small bowl mix together the raw eggs*, milk and half of the grated cheese and add it to the already mixed pasta. Mix well by making sure that every piece of pasta is covered.
- Place the mixed pasta in the dish and gently press it down to pack it in. Cover the top layer with the remaining grated cheese and sprinkle extra black pepper on top.
- Bake the pasta dish on the middle rack of your oven for about 45 minutes. During the last 10 minutes I like to place the dish on a higher rack so it gets crispier. However, this last step is optional.
- Once ready, let it rest for a few minutes before slicing through so that the pasta bake doesn't break completely.
If you have any questions, feedback or comments on this recipe, please leave a comment below. Please also rate this recipe by double clicking on the stars below. If you did make this recipe, tag @apronandwhisk and hashtag #apronandwhisk, as I’m curious to see what you create!
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