It took about 10 minutes into making this recipe for me to realize that it was merely fancy Hamburger Helper. It is so what I need right now: warm, hearty, comforting. And it was easy to make, and didn't take a lot of time, which is great, because we don't have a ton of that this time of year, do we?
Also: It's a perfect thing to bring to any Christmas or cold-weather gathering. It’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but it is completely homemade down to the cheesey sauce, and that counts for something. Come on, we’ve got all of January to promise to eat more vegetables.
Every ingredient is crucial here, from the green pepper to the dried Italian spices to the cubed cheddar cheese. Serve it with a nice big spinach salad to counteract the heaviness of the cheese. Definitely don't wash it down with a handful of Christmas cookies. That is not something I did. Nope.
The original recipe called for ground beef, but I used ground turkey and thought it actually tasted slightly better. The beef gives off a very, well, beefy flavor, and it’s good, but for a weeknight dinner I found it just a bit too fatty. There’s enough to love with the butter and milk and cheese. But it’s up to you: Any ground meat would do.
The thing I love most about this recipe is that is does not get overcooked once it’s assembled into the casserole dish. I’ve made this mistake one too many times with baked macaroni and cheese. Ooh, so much sauce, I can cook it for an hour! Nah. Even globs of cheese sauce dry up quickly, and the macaroni overcooks, and the result is bland and too noodly and disappointing.
This dish just gets broiled at the very end, to melt more cheese on top and create a soft crust. Since everything is fully cooked, that’s all it needs. And it ensures you can bring it to the table bubbling and hot, which is by far the best way to eat it. Though it’s also pretty dang good at 10 p.m., eaten by the forkful straight out of the fridge.
Macaroni and Beef Casserole
2 quarts water
Salt to taste
2 cups elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 pound ground turkey
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or Italian parsley
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 cups cubed or shredded Cheddar cheese
Cayenne pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Bring the water with salt to a boil. Add the macaroni; stir and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain and rinse under cold water.
In a skillet, heat the oil and add the onions, celery, green pepper and garlic. Cook, stirring, until wilted. Add the meat, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the meat loses its red color. Add the oregano, basil and tomatoes. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the cooked macaroni. Blend well and set aside. Keep warm.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan, and stir in the flour with a wire whisk until well-blended. Add the milk, stirring rapidly, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
Remove the sauce from the heat, and stir in the Cheddar cheese, cayenne, nutmeg, and more salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the cheese melts.
Spoon the macaroni mixture into a baking dish; I used a 9- by 13-inch glass casserole dish. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the macaroni mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and place under the broiler until it is hot, bubbling and lightly browned.
Serves 6 to 8.
Source: Adapted from the New York Times