In Missouri we simply called it Goulash and in the era before packaged and processed foods took over what could be put on the table in a hurry, it was the easiest meal to prepare from staples always on hand in our home – ground beef taken from the freezer, home canned tomato juice, elbow macaroni, salt and pepper.
To this day, as much as I love exotic ingredients and recipes from around the world, this is wonderful comfort food for me. I guess you could call it one of my guilty pleasures because it fits, in a way, the definition of foods that one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling somewhat embarrassed for liking it so much. Not that I really feel guilty about it. No, it’s not sophisticated in the least but it does contain three of the groups on “My Plate”, can be on the table in the time it takes to boil a pot of water and cook pasta and dirties exactly two cooking vessels and a couple of spoons. There is not even a knife or a cutting board to wash.
If you search the net you will find all sorts of variations on the theme – American Goulash, American Chop Suey, Johnny Marzetti and one I found on Epicurious called Macaroni À La Gisolif. This one of course it got dissed by some reviewers for not being sophisticated enough to make an appearance it on the site – and it had onion, green pepper and Italian seasoning added! They would really have a field day with my stripped down version. Other reviewers however, got it and recounted their versions and memories of this way before Hamburger Helper staple. Over the years I’ve occasionally added some onion to the ground beef and perhaps a dash of hot sauce but my favorite is the still the bare bones one I grew up on and I get no complaints when I say” we’re having Goulash for dinner”. We don’t have it often these days -too many things to try, but when we do I enjoy every mouthful. Sometimes it’s the simple things prepared with love that are the best and most remembered.
This is it – Elbow Macaroni, Tomato Juice, Ground Beef, Salt & Pepper
Heat water to boiling and when it comes to a boil add the salt
While your waiting for the water to boil, start browning the ground beef (I use an 85/15 or 90/10 lean to fat content-then I don’t have to worry about draining off any fat). Season with several grinds of black pepper.
When the water comes to a boil stir in the elbow macaroni (yes you can use other pasta shapes but the elbows are perfect for curling around the ground beef and soaking up the tomato juice). I have switched to whole grain-if you haven’t made the switch, this is a great recipe to give it a try. Cook the pasta to a minute or two less than the al dente directions on your package.
By this point the ground beef should have lost its pink color and started to brown nicely. Stir in the tomato juice-I’m lucky to still have a few quarts of the juice I canned last summer, but any tomato juice will do. Reduce to a simmer and let it bubble away until the macaroni is ready.
To save from getting a pasta steam facial and washing a colander, I scoop the pasta directly into the meat sauce.
Continue to cook until the macaroni is your desired degree of doneness. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper level-I almost always add a few more grinds of pepper. The salt will depend on the tomato juice you use and the amount of salt you prefer.
This batch is a bit on the watery side, partially due to my homemade juice and the fact I was so hungry for my “guilty pleasure” that I didn’t allow the meat sauce to simmer just a bit longer!!
I hope you enjoy this “recipe without a recipe”-nothing measured or timed until preparing for this post, just learned from the previous generation and now passed to the next with love.
by: M.B. Einerson
Servings: 4 generous
- 3 quarts water (the measurement isn’t super critical, but you want enough to allow the pasta to move freely in the boiling water)
- 2 Tablespoons salt
- 6 to 8 oz. elbow macaroni (depending on the shape of the elbows this will be 1 ½ to 2 cups) – I’ve switched to whole grain, but the classic is with the good old white pasta
- 1 lb. ground beef – I usually use an 85/15 or a 90/10 so I don’t need to drain off fat
- Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 1 quart (32 fluid oz.) tomato juice
- Salt to taste ( if you salt your pasta cooking water and use regular sodium level tomato juice you will likely not need any additional salt)
Fill pan with water and bring to a boil. Once the water has come to a boil add the salt.
Meanwhile begin browning the ground beef in a large skillet over medium to high heat (I like my wok skillet for this, but any large cooking vessel that will hold 3 quarts or so will be fine). Break it up as you put it into the pan or simply dump it in and break it up as it begins to cook with a spoon or potato masher etc. Season with several grinds of black pepper.
When the meat begins to lose its pink color drop the macaroni into the boiling water. Give it a good stir to make sure the elbows don’t clump together. Cook the macaroni a minute or two less than the al dente directions on your package.
When the meat is nicely browned, add the tomato juice to the skillet and stir. Reduce heat to simmer if you haven’t already and let it bubble away until the macaroni is ready.
When the macaroni is ready, drain and add to the meat sauce or using a slotted spoon, spider etc. scoop it directly into the meat sauce. Stir and cook until the macaroni is your desired degree of doneness. Taste to check for doneness and to adjust salt and pepper level.