My step-dad was always home and waiting on me by the time my bus reached the top of our long driveway. From the time I changed into my “work clothes” until dark, we were always busy doing something. Whether it was fixing fence, building barns, dragging brush or chasing cows, not a day went by that there wasn’t something to do on “the place”…and we always worked up an appetite.
My mom worked outside the home, so did my step-dad for that matter, but my mom worked further away and for longer hours. It was sometimes late by the time she got home, so she didn’t really have a lot of time to put together gourmet meals. Actually, we never got gourmet, but what we did get was classic comfort food. I can’t say that she never opened a box of hamburger helper, but if we were lucky, we got her version…from scratch. Well, except for the biscuits; they would have always been whomp biscuits, but I forgive her for that…
I always buy my ground beef in bulk from Costco and freeze it in portions until I’m ready to use it. My mom froze her’s, too, and she’ll be happy to know that as I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten better at taking it out of the freezer earlier in the day–LOOK!, mom, no more frozen ground beef sitting on the counter at 6 PM!
Anyway, everyone’s mom has her own version of macaroni and meat, and my mom’s was pretty good, but I’ve taken her version and made it even better. I add onions, garlic, pancetta and fresh basil, then incorporate lots of sharp cheddar. (I think my mother actually used Velvetta, but (once again) for that, I’ll forgive her.) 🙂 Actually, you’ll get a creamier version if you use Velvetta, but I’m trying to be all gourmet and everything, so I’m playing my food snob card.
Here is my take on my mother’s classic macaroni and meat.
- 1 lb pasta (elbow macaroni is traditional, but I use casarecce)
- 1 cup pancetta, medium dice
- 1 onion, medium dice
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 1/2 cups canned diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon each of cumin and dried oregano
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups grated sharp cheddar
- Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water. Drain and set aside.
- Render pancetta in skillet over medium heat. Cook until just crispy. Remove from pan and place on paper towel lined plate.
- Drain fat from pan, leaving about 1 Tablespoon or so in pan.
- Saute onions over low to medium heat in pancetta fat until translucent.
- Add garlic and cook for an additional minute or two, taking care to not burn the garlic.
- Add ground beef and saute until browned.
- Add tomatoes, cooked pancetta, salt and pepper to taste, cumin and ground oregano. Cook for an additional minute or five, then add the fresh basil. If the mixtures is too runny, you can always cook it longer, letting the liquid reduce until the mixture is as thick as you want it. If you’re feeling lazy, just drain off some of the liquid…
- Stir in about a half cup of the cheddar cheese. This isn’t exact science such as baking. If you like more cheese, then add more cheese. If you’re worried about your arteries, then use less…
- In a large bowl, combine the ground beef mixture with the pasta. Spread mixture into prepared baking dish. Top with remaining cheese.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.