I always struggle with what to do with ground beef. I usually buy it with the intention of making burgers or chili and then when I change my mind I have to scramble to come up with something else. I must have looked at a dozen online sites trying to find inspiration. After wading through countless listings for (of course) chili, tamale pie and spaghetti, I was just about ready to give up. My last hope was going to Eat Your Books which I joined two years ago. For those of you not familiar with this website, it is a place to catalog all of your cookbooks. They index the books which then makes your library searchable. I still had to sift through lots of entries but I eventually found this in a cookbook I have had for years but rarely use, Craig Claiborne’s The New New York Times Cookbook. The casserole is basically a hearty macaroni and cheese. It takes a bit of time to put together but the results are cheesy goodness at its best especially if you use extra sharp cheddar cheese. This recipe can be made healthier by using whole grain pasta, skim milk, 2% cheddar cheese and low fat ground beef or a lean ground turkey.
2 cups elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons olive oil or butter, divided
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1 pound ground chuck or round
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne
black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 2- to 2 1/2-quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. I used an 8- x 11.5-inch Pyrex dish and it was full to the top. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander and rinse well with cold water.
In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil or butter over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the beef, stirring to break it up and cook until no longer pink and any excess moisture has evaporated. Drain any extra fat remaining in the pan. Add the oregano, basil, tomatoes and half the salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes and set aside.
In a 2-quart medium saucepan over medium heat, add the oil or butter and the flour and whisk until smooth. Stirring constantly, cook for 2-3 minutes until the raw taste is cooked out of the flour. Add the milk a little at a time, whisking after each addition until the liquid is incorporated. If the flour becomes lumpy keep whisking until the lumps disappear. Turn up the heat to medium-high and keep stirring until the sauce comes to a boil and begins to thicken. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheddar cheese until all of it has melted. Stir in the nutmeg, cayenne and the other 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Assemble the casserole by spooning the macaroni into the baking dish. Add the meat mixture on top in an even layer. Carefully pour the cheese sauce on the top. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the edges of the casserole are bubbling. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Makes 4-6 servings.
adapted from Craig Claiborne’s The New New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne with Pierre Franey