300ml whole milk (10.1 ounces)
1 bay leaf
1/2 onion finely cut
100g (3 1/2 oz) penne or similar shaped pasta
A little rapeseed or olive oil
250g spinach (9 ounces)
50g (1 3/4 oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
50g (1 3/4 oz) plain flour
75g (2 3/4 oz) mature Cheddar, finely grated
A little freshly grated nutmeg
3 large eggs, separated, plus 1 extra egg white
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 190 Celsius (375 º F)and put a baking sheet in to heat up.
1) Liberally butter a 1.5 litre (50 oz) soufflé dish or fairly deep ovenproof dish of similar capacity.
2) Bring a pan of well-salted water to boil. Add the penne to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain and then add a bit of oil to stop sticking together.
3) Fry the onion until soft in a large covered pan over a medium heat .Add the spinach with just the water clinging to it after washing and cook until wilted – just a few minutes. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the liquid with your hands, then roughly chop the spinach.
4) Heat the butter in a a pan over a medium heat, stir in the flour to form a paste and cook for a few minutes. Add the bay leaf and milk slowly to the flour mix and keep stirring until you have a thick bechamel sauce. Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, nutmeg, chopped spinach, and some salt and pepper. Beat in the egg yolks, then mix with the cooked penne.
5) In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites to firm peaks. Fold it in with the pasta and bechamel. Tip into the buttered dish and place on the hot baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until well risen and golden. Serve straightaway.