Missouri Goulash

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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 

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Heat water to boiling and when it comes to a boil add the salt

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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To save from getting a pasta steam facial and washing a colander, I scoop the pasta directly into the meat sauce. 

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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. 

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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!!

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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.

M.B.

 

Missouri Goulash

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.

M.B.

Fusilli Lunghi Alla Rustica-Long Fusilli with Bell Peppers and Onions

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This post is not so much about this recipe specifically but a nod to another of my favorite cookbooks The Classic Pasta Cookbook by Giuliano Hazan.   Slowly but surely I’m cooking my way through it in Julie &Julia  style but without giving myself the pressure of doing it all in one year and with no whining.   Cooking from this one is easy and satisfying.  This will be the 47th of the 102 recipes that I’ve made from it to date.  The book itself has a permanent home in the recipe stand on my kitchen counter, serving as a backbone of sorts to the myriad of things I’m planning to cook.

I’m certain I purchased it because it was written by the son of the Marcella Hazan, the Julia Child of Italian cuisine.   In the 80’s I had the great fortune to take a series of classes from Marcella at a small shop in Westlake Village CA.  The shop has since grown into the  Westlake Culinary School  (Home of  Let’s Get Cooking) so if you are one of my LA friends check it out!!  They have hosted every one from Marcella to Julia, Wolfgang and Jacques to name drop a few.

This little volume has a heartfelt forward from Marcella, an educational introduction by the author followed by one of my favorite parts-a catalog of pasta.  The pages of the catalog contain beautiful photos of all types of pasta with short descriptions explaining the meaning of their names and how they are most successfully used in dishes.  Today’s recipe for example uses Fusilli Lunghi – “These are “long springs”, like telephone cords.  They are good with chunky sauces, which cling well to the curves in the pasta”

The next section of the book has a tutorial on the equipment used to make home-made pasta, step-by-step instructions on making the dough, rolling the pasta, cutting the pasta, stuffing pasta and ends with cooking and serving tips.

Then come the recipes First a section on Classic Sauces.  There are eleven in all, each one with a beautiful photo of the finished dish as well as an array of the ingredients and picture of pastas that pair best with the sauce.   Needless to say all of them have been prepared in my kitchen on multiple occasions.  My daughter’s specialty was the All’Alfredo, with only 7 ingredients including the pasta and salt & pepper, it was a great starter recipe.   Not only did she master it, but she feed and taught several friends how to make it as well.

Next come recipes organized by pasta shape-long, ribbons, tubes, special shapes, soups and stuffed and baked!   These are the one’s I’m still cooking my way through – 35 down and 55 to go.

It doesn’t end there however.  There is also a section on preparing vegetables-photos of classic techniques for dicing and chopping and a great tip on how to peel a tomato/pepper or any soft fleshed fruit or vegetable.  This last tip is one that his mom taught in those classes I took and that I continue to pass on to those I teach.   Not quite ready to move to video in this blog, but I think you’ll get the gist of it in a still shot when I’m using fresh tomatoes some day soon.  Not today, however-canned diced are the ticket for almost all recipes in early April.

Last but certainly not least there is a section on the Italian Pantry followed by Notes with little gems of knowledge ranging from the meaning of molto al dente to why vegetable oil is sometimes preferred over olive oil in a recipe.

Wow!  I didn’t start this post as a sales pitch for this cookbook, but I do love it.  Sadly it is no longer in print, but available through guess who.  In any case, if you ever run across one at a garage sale, thrift store or in a box on a street curb in Brooklyn grab it.

This particular recipe fulfills my reducetarian goals with just a bit of pancetta for flavor.  It could be completely vegetarian, but that little bit of pork goes a long way when it comes to flavor.    It  does goes a bit out of season with the bell peppers but as with the tomatoes last week I’m craving fresh produce and when I found the lovely fusilli lunghi at the store yesterday I couldn’t resist.  As for the basil,  dried is not a good substitute for fresh  and I’m all out of my frozen stash from last summer’s garden-sooo.

buon appetito!

MB

Yes, that’s the original recipe in the stand on my counter with all of the ingredients I’ll be using to make this dish.  In the original the ingredients are shown in an array according to their inclusion in the recipe and in the form (minced, strips) to be used in your mise en place.

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Just in case you need a pictorial of what to do when a recipe calls for onion, thinly sliced

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Next the pepper.  There are many ways of getting that pepper cut into uniform strips but this is my favorite.  Then I get too munch on the top and bottom while I’m working.

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Now those olives!  You can totally use pitted green olives of any type, but for Italian dishes I like the color, flavor and texture of Castelvertrano.  Sometimes you can find them in bulk in a good grocery store or market.  To remove the pit, either smash it with you palm on the fat part or the blade of your knife or use a cherry/olive pitter (yep I do like gadgets for some jobs)

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I took a short cut with the pancetta (actually I was using up some from a previous recipe) and used pre-diced.  To be true to the recipe buy a 1/4 in slice and cut it into thin strips. 

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If you don’t have both parmigiano-reggiano and pecorino romano in refrigerator, stick with the parm.  Much better to have a good quality parmesan (no pre-grated please and don’t even ask about substituting with the stuff in the green canister).  The pecorino has a stronger, sharper flavor but I doubt that in this dish you will miss it.

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Now that nearly all of your mise en place is done you can start cooking.

Into the pan with the olive oil.  I find my wok skillet ideal for cooking Italian pasta sauces like this one. If you don’t have a wok, a large skillet is the next best thing.  Now it’s low and slow until the onions are soft and a rich golden color.  This brings out all the natural sweetness in the onions and makes the flavor mellow.

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Stir frequently.

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Now in with the garlic and red pepper flakes.  

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As soon as you get them stirred in,  its time to add the pancetta.  Cook and stir frequently until it’s lightly browned but not crisp.

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At this point it’s time to start heating the water to cook the pasta.  Note I have the salt ready and waiting.

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Back to the sauce – it’s in with the pepper strips and parsley.  These need to cook until the peppers are tender.  It should take around 5 minutes.

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Once the peppers are tender, add the tomatoes and oregano if you’re using dried.  If you are using fresh tomatoes they will need to cook for another 5 minutes or so.  If you are using canned all you need to do is stir them in and let them get warm.

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Next the olives, capers and basil (fresh oregano if this was your choice).  Stir to combine and then turn off the burner or remove from heat source if your cooking on an electric range.

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Add that Tablespoon of salt to your boiling pasta water.  

So here’s the deal-the only thing I now always change when using this book is to cut the amount of dry pasta in half.  I know, I know,  we Americans over sauce our pasta, but even with half the dry weight of pasta, these recipes are never dripping or covered in sauce and actually turn out looking pretty much as pictured.  So I leave it to you to decide!

In any case I almost always weigh my pasta.  

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Drop it all into the salted boiling water and give it a good stir to separate the strands.  I set my timer for a minute or two before the package directions indicate so I can check to see how close to that al dente I am.

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Once I hit al dente, I move the pasta pot to the sauce and transfer the noodles to the sauce with a pair of tongs.  No pasta water facial from taking this big pot of hot water and trying to pour it into a colander!  Then if I need some of that nice starchy water to thin the sauce a bit, it’s ready and waiting.  But best of all no extra dishes (colander  and bowl to catch pasta water) to wash!!!

Add the cheeses.  Toss it all together and your ready to eat! 

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It’s a vegetable pasta, but the flavor of this one needs a light red wine.  My hubby chose a Sangiovese Di Romagna!

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Fusilli Lunghi Alla Rustica

by: M.B. Einerson

Barley Adapted from The Classic Pasta Cookbook-Giuliano Hazan

Servings: 4 for a main course and 6 if you are eating Italian style

For ½ lb. fusilli lunghi (note that the original recipe uses 1 lb. pasta) Alternative pastas: fusilli corti, penne, elicoidali

  • ¼ to ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (use ¼ if you are using the pancetta and the full ½ if you’re going vegetarian)
  • 3 cups yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 to 3 oz. pancetta, cut into thin strips from a ¼ inch slice or diced into ¼ in cubes
  • 1 large yellow or red bell pepper or ½ of each, cored and seeded, peeled and cut into strips ½ inch wide
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 lb. fresh ripe plum tomatoes peeled, seeded and cut into ½ inch dice or 1-14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes drained – see comment about adding dried oregano here.
  • ½ cup green olives, pitted and julienned
  • 2 Tbs. capers-drained if in brine or rinsed and drained if salted
  • 1 tsp. coarsely chopped fresh oregano or ½ tsp. dried (I prefer Turkish in Italian dishes and if I’m using dried I add with the tomatoes to give it more time to hydrate)
  • 2 Tbs. fresh basil leaves, torn by hand into small pieces or cut into ribbons
  • Salt – depending on your taste and the amount of salt in the tomatoes you may find there is enough already in the sauce, but be sure to salt the pasta water with 1Tbs of kosher salt
  • 4 Tbs. freshly grated parmigiana-reggiano cheese
  • 2 Tbs. freshly grated pecorino romano cheese (no worries if you don’t have this one-just use all Parmesan

If you’re like us you will want to take an additional piece of cheese to the table for grating on top.

In a large pot add 4 quarts of water and heat over medium-high heat. (You want it to be boiling when the time comes to drop the pasta)

Put the olive oil and onion into a large skillet over medium-low heat and cook until the onion has softened and turned a rich golden color.

Increase heat to medium-high and stir in the garlic, red pepper flakes.  Sauté for 30 seconds or less.  Add the pancetta and cook until it is lightly browned but not crisp.

Add the bell pepper and parsley and cook, stirring occasionally until tender.  Add the tomatoes (and the oregano if using dried) and cook another 5 to 6 minutes.

Stir in the olives, capers, oregano (if using fresh) and basil and remove from heat.

When the pasta water is boiling, add 1 Tbs. salt and drop in the pasta all at once, stirring until the strands are submerged and separated from each other.

When the pasta is cooked al dente (taste a strand about a minute before the package directions indicate it should be done).  Drain it or lift from the water with tongs and toss it with the sauce and the grated cheeses.  Taste for salt and serve at once with a light red wine.

buon appetito!

M.B.