This savory pasta dish was inspired by kawarma, the spicy ground beef topping spooned over hummus in Israel. Milk Street re-envisioned it over pasta with just a few adjustments, resulting in a ground beef sauce seasoned with fragrant spices and generous amounts of onion and garlic, all lightened with a good dose of mint at the end.
I was scratching my head over the ingredients, wondering how they would all come together. Well we were both surprised how delicious the meal was! While we didn’t change anything dramatically, the amount of ground beef was a stretch over the one-and-a-half pounds by another four ounces, no biggie.
Milk Street warns not use ground beef fattier than 90 percent lean or the sauce will be greasy. However, we happened to have an 85 percent lean ground beef in the house and just made sure to siphon off the grease after Step 2, before adding the tomatoes. The type of pasta was switched from linguine to cellentani because that’s what we happened to have on hand, plus I think the feta clung to those curves more willingly.
And by all means, make sure to use authentic Greek block feta, not the already crumbled bits packaged in plastic containers—the taste is immeasurably more pleasant. Rather than sprinkle the feta as a garnish, it is tossed in with the just-cooked noodles so it melts and coats the strands, or in our case, the cork screws because we used cellentani pasta.
Perhaps because of the extra beef and thicker pasta, our version would easily feed five.
Cellentani with Spiced Beef, Onion Sauce and Feta
- 1½ lbs. 90 percent lean ground beef
- 2 Tbsp. ground cumin
- 2 tsp. sweet paprika
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
- 8 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 12 oz. cellentani, linguine, or your choice of pasta
- 8 oz. block feta cheese, shredded on the large holes of a box grater
- 1 cup chopped fresh mint
- In a medium bowl, combine the beef, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper and ¼ cup water. Mix with your hands until homogenous.
- Add the beef mixture, onion and garlic to a 12-inch skillet. Set the pan over medium-high and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat with a spatula, until the onion has softened and the beef is no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Stir in the tomatoes with juices and bring to a simmer, then reduce to medium and cook uncovered, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and 2 tablespoons salt; cook until the pasta is al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water (you probably won’t need it all), then drain the pasta.
- Return the pasta to the pot. Add about ¾ of the feta and toss. Taste and season with salt and pepper, add reserved pasta water a bit at a time to loosen if needed, then transfer to a platter.
- Stir the mint into the sauce, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining feta.
Adapted from a recipe for Milk Street