This is a traditional Finnish dish; a macaroni bake with ground beef or pork-beef mix. This casserole has a milk and egg mixture and flavorful ground meat instead of having a cheese sauce.
This recipe is:
- Kids favorite
- Not too spicy
- Meal-prep friendly
What is Finnish macaroni casserole like?
This is not as dense as a Caribbean macaroni pie. The traditional Finnish makaronilaatikko falls apart easily when slicing it. This depends, though, on the number of eggs used in the recipe. This has no cheese in the sauce, so it is a bit lighter in consistency and calories. The milk and egg mixture holds the macaroni together.
This is my version of the traditional recipe, and this has a bit more flavors. I have added tomato paste, soy sauce, garlic powder, and herbs to the traditional recipe.
Ingredients and replacements
- Macaroni. Wholegrain dark macaroni is healthiest with more fiber and nutrients.
- Ground beef. For a low calorie version use 9% fat beef . Also a mix on beef and pork is traditionally used.
- Milk. Whole fat milk makes most flavorful casserole. Also meat broth can be used instead of milk.
- Eggs. You can make an eggless version but the consistency is different.
- Onion. Yellow onion can be replaced with red onion.
- Soy sauce. Can be replaced with salt
- Tomato paste. This is not necessary but gives additional flavor to the meat.
- Spices. Spices can be left out or replaced. A herb mix is a good addition.
- Topping. You dont need any topping, but grated cheese or breadcrumbs are traditionally used as topping.
Spices in the traditional Makaronilaatikko
- Black pepper
As you notice, the traditional taste profile is very bland. This is because in the past, after the was spices were expensive. But nowadays we have access to a variety of spices, so why not use them?
The makaronilaatikko served in Finnish schools has allspice as flavor in the beef mix. Since I hate allspice, this recipe does not have it. If you like the taste of allspice, then add ¼-1/2 teaspoon of it.
What type of meat to use in the macaroni casserole?
Ground beef is the best alternative. A cheaper version is to use mixed beef and pork. It is important to remember to fry the meat long enough so the fat is fried and the liquid evaporated. If you use very high-fat beef, you can also spoon some of the excess fat away.
You can use lamb meat also in the macaroni casserole. Some crumbled feta cheese and dried mint pair well with lamb in the pasta bake.
Ground chicken is also an option. It has the lowest calorie amount of meat variants. Some like to add a little curry powder since this pairs well with chicken.
Fish is rarely used in the macaroni casserole. Canned tuna is the only fish that some use in the recipe. If you like to make this with tuna, you can use the same spices as with beef.
How to make Finnish macaroni casserole?
Boil the macaroni. Reduce 2 minutes from the cooking time. Often 6 minutes is good. Pour out the water after cooking.
Preheat your oven to 350 F(175 C)
When the macaroni is boiling, peel and chop your onion into tiny cubes.
Fry the beef and onion on a pan until the fat and liquid have fried away and you have a dryish meat onion mix. Make sure, though, you don´t burn them.
Add in the soy sauce, tomato paste, and spices. Mix well.
Pour your macaroni into the baking dish. Mix in the beef and stir it.
Whisk together eggs, milk, and nutmeg. Pour the egg milk over the macaroni-meat mix.
Top with grated cheese and oregano. Cover your dish with aluminum foil. -Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for additional 15 minutes.
Let the pasta bake rest a while before serving, so the egg mix sets.
What to serve with macaroni casserole
- Ketchup. This is served traditionally
- Lingonberry jam. Some people like this with lingonberries. Jam can be found in IKEA.
- Pickles. Pickled beetroot and cucumber goes well with this.
- Grated carrots
- Green salad.
Here are some tips on different flavor profiles you can try out. Each is very tasty and makes a separate dish.
- Taco spiced: Add taco spice mix in your minced meat and serve with salsa sauce.
- With added bacon: Fry small pieces of bacon and layer them in the macaroni-meat mix.
- Mushroom pasta bake: Fry some forest muchrooms with your meat to get additional flavor.
- Greek inspired: Use ground lamb meat. Add 2 teaspoons of dried mint in the meat and 1 teaspoon cumin in addition to the other spices in the recipe. Top with 200 grams crumbled feta cheese.
- Italian flavors: Ass 100 grams of sundried tomatoes sliced to small cubes with the meat. Top your casserole with sliced tomato and mozzarella. Decorate with fresh basil before serving.
- Thailand flavor profile: Make the casserole with chicken mince. As spices add fresh grated ginger, garlic and chili. Instead of milk use coconut milk.
How to make a gluten-free version
To make a gluten-free version, use gluten-free macaroni. Gluten-free pasta often becomes soft and slimy, so there are some tips on how you can avoid that.
Make sure you cook your pasta 2 minutes less than the package says. Rinse your macaroni since they are very starchy.
Different brands of gluten-free pasta give a different outcomes. I like pasta that is a rice and corn mix. Make sure your ketchup is also gluten-free. Heinz is usually that.
Milk free version
To make a milk-free macaroni casserole, use plant milk instead of regular. Good options are oat milk, soy milk, and almond milk.
Make sure you don´t top your pasta bake with regular grated cheese. You can leave it without the topping or use vegan grated cheese.
This is how you make a vegan makaronilaatikko
To make a vegan version is easy. Use a vegan mince, a meat substitute. I like, for example, the beyond meat and next-level meat. Those are though also very fatty and not that healthy.
Textured soy protein works excellent also in this bake; it is lower in fat. I like to fry ½ cup with one can of crushed tomatoes as a liquid.
Replace the milk with plant milk and cheese with vegan cheese. Leave out the eggs from the recipe altogether. The consistency becomes different, but it tastes equally good.
History of makaronilaatikko
This version of macaroni casserole with an egg and milk mixture is a Finnish recipe. It was initially made without meat since meat was expensive and more of a luxury item. Onion has been a part of the recipe since the beginning, and also wild mushrooms were sometimes added.
This pasta bake was originally made for the Christmas table. Leftovers were sliced and fried on a pan in butter the next day. Even nowadays, meatless makaronilaatikko is made for the Christmas table in some parts of Finland.
Mostly this is made as everyday food, especially in families with kids. This is a popular food on the school menu also. This casserole has been a favorite in Finnish homes since the 1950s.
Did you know that in the past, all pasta was called macaroni in Finland? People adapted the word pasta in the everyday language as late as the 1980s. (source)
What restaurants in Finland serve makaronilaatikko?
Traveling to Finland, and you want to taste this traditional dish? Since this pasta bake is so everyday food, you can not find this on the menu in any fancy restaurants.
Many larger grocery stores, though, sell warm ready-made dishes, and there you can also find makaronilaatikko. Remember to buy ketchup with it.
Here are some tips on lunch restaurants in Helsinki that also serve traditional Finnish dishes, and you might find makaronilaatikko on the menu. Lunch buffet prices are around 10-11 euros.
To make a lighter and healthier version, use meat with a low-fat percentage. Swap the regular macaroni to a whole grain version to get more fiber. Use fat-free or low-fat milk and skip the grated cheese topping. You can use breadcrumbs instead. This way, you get one portion to 418 calories, 10 grams fat, and over 4 grams fiber.
Freeze up to 3 months in an airtight container.
You can reheat your casserole in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, fry it in a pan or reheat it in the oven. Make sure it is above 140 F, 60C before serving.
Store in the fridge airtight for up to 3 days.
Make half the amount if you use an air fryer. I get a good result in a Philips XXL baking pan. The frying time can be reduced by 10-15 minutes. The top is good to cover with foil for the first 20 minutes.
- 400 g macaroni, dryweight (3 cups)
- 400 g ground beef
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 tablespoon tomato puree
- 2 tablespoon soy sauce or 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoon mixed dried herbs (or basil and thyme)
- 3 eggs
- 2,5 cups milk
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg powder
- ½ cup grated cheese
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- Boil the macaroni. Reduce 2 minutes from the cooking time. Often 6 minutes is good. Pour out the water after cooking.
- Preheat your oven to 350 F(175 C)
- When the macaroni is boiling peel and chop your onion into very small cubes.
- Fry the beef and onion on a pan until the fat and liquid have fried away and you have a dryish meat onion mix. Make sure, though, you don´t burn them.
- Add in the soy sauce, tomato paste, and spices. Mix well.
- Pour your macaroni into the baking dish. Mix in the beef and give it a stir.
- Whisk together eggs, milk, and nutmeg. Pour the egg-milk over the macaroni-meat mix.
- Top with grated cheese and oregano. Cover your dish with aluminum foil. -Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for additional 15 minutes.
- Let the pasta bake rest a while before serving, so the egg mix sets.