It has taken me several years to come up with a recipe which resembles our old family favourite; I hope a younger generation will enjoy it as much as we did.
It always makes me laugh that we still call it Pasta Surprise, when everyone knows exactly what the ‘surprise’ is!
- Large, deep frying pan/wok
- Large saucepan for the pasta
- Deep 2-3 litre oven proof dish
Feeds about 4-6 people
- About 100g Pasta shapes of your choice – I actually think that shells or spirals are better for this recipe. As a rough guide, I pour the pasta shapes into the dish I intend to use for serving – if you fill it about 2/3rds full, the quantities will be perfect when it’s cooked and the sauce is added. Today my dried pasta weighed just over 100g
- 1-2 tablespoons of oil
- 150g of Bacon pieces – cooked – I use left-over ham from a cooked joint for this recipe, making it really handy at Christmas time.
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- a sprinkle of dried chillies (optional)
- A teaspoon or so of Italian herbs
- 15-20g Plain flour.
- Some freshly ground pepper.
- 1 teaspoon of dry mustard powder
- 300mls cold milk
- 150g of grated cheese; medium strong cheddar is good.
- About 125g of fresh breadcrumbs
- Heat the oil in the pan and add the onion. Reduce the heat and cook gently until softened and slightly golden.
- Add the garlic, herbs and chilli (if using) and cook for another minute.
- Add the ham and stir around.
- Sprinkle over the flour and mustard powder, and stir to combine. It will be absorbed by the juices in the pan.
- Slowly add all the milk, stirring all the time, then cook gently for about five mins.
- If the sauce gets too thick, add some more milk – it should be fairly liquid, because it will be soaked up by the pasta.
- Season with ground pepper. Ham can be salty, so only add salt after you’ve tasted the mixture.
- Add half of the cheese to the sauce, and melt in.
- Cook the pasta, drain, reserving some of the cooking water, then add the pasta to the sauce and coat well.
- Pour into the oven-proof dish
- Combine the remaining cheese with the breadcrumbs; then sprinkle on top of the pasta.
- Put into the oven at 180° for about 20 mins until it is all bubbling hot, and the cheesy crumb has formed a crispy crust.
- Serve at once with a green salad, and garlic or warmed crusty bread
- I think that it was the bacon pieces inside that were supposed to be the ‘surprise’!
- Mum called it Spaghetti Surprise because spaghetti was the only pasta available in the 70’s, but these days we prefer it with Fusilli.
- This is a great dish for using leftover ham and cheese (from Christmas for example). Almost any kind of gratable cheese will do – I tend to add a little Parmesan to whatever I’m using, just because it’s there.
- If, after you’ve added the pasta to the sauce, you think it looks a little too thick, add a the pasta water a tablespoon at a time until you get your preferred consistency.
- If you fancy adding a few more veggies to this (and I often do – that’ll ‘surprise’ them 😉 ) I’d suggest some sliced cooked mushroom or small florets of cauliflower or broccolli, all stir-fried until fairly tender, then added into the sauce just before the cheese. If you’re doing this, you can certainly reduce the amount of ham in the recipe.
- I quite often cook the pasta at the same time as the sauce – it speeds things up really well. Don’t worry if it cools off a bit – it’s going into it’s lovely cheesy bath, and then for a spin in the oven!