What an absolutely crazy few weeks it has been. Between catching my first ever college football game (Go Ducks!), attending the 54th Annual Northwest Mathematics Conference (try not to be jealous over that one), and meeting up with my best man’s young family for dinner and drinks, my weekends have been absolutely packed. It’s meant time spent in some of the most beautiful cities not only in the Pacific Northwest, but the entire world (Seattle, Whistler, Vancouver – how are you all so gorgeous?). It’s also meant little time at home to move further towards my goal of 100+ new recipes in a single calendar year.
Oh well, like riding a bike, I’m back to it with a real treat. I wanted to make a truly iconic dish tonight; something that is a classic staple of a nation’s cuisine. I started by thinking I’d represent the Brits with a shepherd’s pie or some tikka masala (thank you, colonialism), but I started entertaining the thought of revisiting Italy with a classic vodka sauce pasta. Remembering that vodka and I aren’t the best of friends, I moved on to look at other pasta options.
From there, I stumbled across Farmgirl Gourmet’s Homemade Hamburger Helper recipe. Somehow, this worked full circle back to the whole “classic staple” idea. I mean, if American commercials are to be believed, Hamburger Helper is on a bi-weekly rotation in every US household. I know that’s obviously not the case, but I felt comforted with the idea of the dish. Obviously I took it and adapted it a bit – switching to fresh garlic and adding onions, adjusting the seasonings, switching the pasta and cheese – but the main idea, that of a bastardized version of risotto with pasta instead of rice, is still the same. On that note…here’s my recipe for the very delicious, “it’s healthier because you know pretty much everything that’s in it”, Homemade Hamburger Helper with Orecchiette:
Homemade Hamburger Helper with Orecchiette
- peanut oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 500 g. lean ground beef
- 500 g. orecchiette
- 2 tsp. cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp. Hungarian paprika
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne powder
- 1 tbsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. fine sea salt, plus extra as needed
- 1 tsp. packed brown sugar
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- 1 1/2 cups boiling water, plus extra as needed
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- Place a braiser or a large, deep pan, over medium heat and add a lug of peanut oil to it (for a cast iron braiser, you will want to go slightly under medium). Add the onions and sauté for about five minutes, or until they are starting to turn translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.
- Toss in the beef, stirring and breaking the large mass apart into small pieces. Stir often, cooking until all pink is no longer visible. Push the meat to the side of the braiser and use a spoon to scoop out most of the excess liquid and fat.
- Mix the cornstarch together with the seasonings (the paprika, cayenne, chili, salt and brown sugar) and toss this mixture on top of the beef. Add the orecchiette, then pour over the milk and the hot water and stir to fully incorporate all of the ingredients.
- Increase the heat to bring everything to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Stirring occasionally, let everything simmer for around 12-15 minutes, until the pasta is cooked. The sauce will reduce in this time. If it starts to dry out too much, add extra boiling water as necessary.
- Stir in the mozzarella, taste, and season with additional salt if necessary.
- Finally, fold in diced tomatoes and serve hot.