Sunday, August 5, 2012

Simple beef and cheese macaroni casserole

Last night I decided to try out a recipe that I had seen on Pinterest and thought it looked or at least sounded good.

For the most part it seemed like a very simple recipe, mostly made up of a Bolognaise sauce and elbow pasta (or macaroni).

Here's the *actual* RECIPE: (I didn't think the instructions in this recipe were very good or well written so you might want to pay a bit of attention to what I did outside of the instructions!)

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Optional seasonings: black pepper, oregano, cumin, coriander, chopped garlic, hot smoked paprika, chilli powder—whatever you're in the mood for
  • 1 large 800g can whole tomatoes, pureed in the can with a hand blender or in a blender
  • 1kg lean ground beef
  • 250g of elbow pasta or macaroni
  • 1 cup each grated cheddar and mozzarella cheeses

  • Sweat the onions in the oil with a three-fingered pinch of salt.  Add the beef and cook it, breaking it up as you do.  Add another three-fingered pinch of salt or two, along with any dry seasonings you want.  Add the tomatoes and any fresh seasonings you may be using, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook for an hour.
  • Cook the macaroni in boiling water till it's half done.  Drain it and add it to the tomatoes.  Stir it into the sauce.  Taste it.  Add more salt and other seasonings as needed, and cover.  When it's cooled and the pasta has absorbed the tomato juices, transfer it to a large baking dish and cover it with foil.  It can sit out for several hours like this, be refrigerated for up to two days, or frozen a few weeks.
  • Bake it in a 200 degree Celsius oven till it's piping hot (about 45 minutes if it's cold to room temperature).  Just before you're ready to eat, remove the foil, cover macaroni with the cheese and broil till it looks beautiful.

I went about cooking this pretty much the way that I would making a Bolognaise sauce as I would when making spaghetti, so to be honest, I didn't follow the instructions that much for the sauce part of the recipe.

I did decide to vary the spices so that it wasn't my usual Bolognaise flavors so that we could taste something different. Instead of using Italian Herbs, I used Mixed Herbs, along with a generous sprinkling of cumin, paprika and ground coriander.

I also added several (okay a lot!) cloves of garlic into the mix.

After cooking up the sauce, I put it into a saucepan and placed it in the oven to simmer at 120 degrees Celsius for 1 hour, rather than have it sit on the stove at a low heat. I always find this way of simmering a sauce much more effective, safer and consistent.

After an hour, I pulled out the sauce and had the pasta boiling. I also tasted the sauce to make sure it tasted the way I liked it and added some more salt and pepper to taste.

I usually boil pasta for 8 minutes for it to be al dente but this time I only boiled it for 4 minutes based on what the recipe said.

After that, I layered the pasta, then two handfuls of shredded cheese (mix of tasty, cheddar and mozzarella cheese) over the top of it into a baking dish (I should have used a larger dish as I had sauce leftover!). Then I ladled the sauce on top of it.

I then placed the baking dish into the oven at a very low heat - 90 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes for the pasta to finish cooking and soaking up the sauce.

After 20 minutes, I put two more handfuls of shredded cheese on top of the casserole and back into the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for another 20 minutes.

All up, this takes about 2 to 2.5 hours, possibly 3 hours of cooking time. Make sure you allow that if you are going to make it.

I misjudged a few things:
  1. I used a baking dish that was slightly too small and ended up with some sauce leftover. I'll probably freeze that and use it for a pasta dinner one night when I want to just cook something quick.
  2. I also started cooking it a little too late so dinner was quite late for us. I should have started cooking about 5pm or even at 4:30pm but I started instead at about 6pm or possibly a little after. This meant that we didn't end up eating till close to 9pm. Very late for dinner at home.

One last thing, since it's all baked and the casserole has pasta in it, you need to be a little heavy handed with your seasoning if you want the dish to taste good. Don't be shy with your spices and your seasoning. It will really help your dish taste yummy.

While the casserole was baking, The Boy snuck into the kitchen and had a taste of the leftover sauce. He declared it "very tasty" and was quite adamant about saving it for another pasta dish one night. :-) It always makes me happy when The Boy enjoys the food I make.

Anyhow, it turned out to be delicious!! The Boy loved it though he termed the dish very "pedestrian" by which he means "everyday, home cooking that is yummy to eat". We have a ton of leftovers, so there are at least another 2 whole meals for the both of us left for the week.

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