A few of my recent posts have dealt with pasta and casseroles, especially those I remember from my childhood. Here is yet another: my mother’s famous (or infamous as you will see) goulash, which was decidedly not the Hungarian variety. It was one of her most prized recipes, and a dish that family visitors often requested. She would bring it to the table with great pride, always in an oven casserole. When we had visitors, it would disappear before the meal was over, no matter how much she made.
Sometime around my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, the topic of Mom’s famous goulash came up at the dinner table, and my father – for whatever reason – made the offhanded comment that, actually, he never much cared for my mother’s goulash. A pall fell over the gathering, everyone ate quickly, and plates were rushed to the sink without much more comment. My mother never made her goulash again. Too bad, because it is really a quick, easy, and tasty one-dish meal for a family dinner.
When I was compiling a family cookbook years ago, I asked my mother for the recipe. She didn’t send it even with a lot of cajoling. She even claimed that she had lost it. Finally, I received a copy just before she died. Actually, you don’t need a recipe, just a little imagination.
- 2 cups uncooked dry macaroni
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped coarsely
- 3 ribs celery, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded, deveined, and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed or minced
- 1 pound ground beef
- ½ pound mushrooms, washed and sliced
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon ground bay leaf
- ¼ teaspoon ground thyme (more if you like)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
- 4 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
- 2 tablespoons butter to dot the top of the casserole
- Cook the macaroni in a large pot of salted, boiling water until just al dente (about 12 minutes at sea level, longer at higher altitudes). Drain and set aside.
- In a large oven-proof container (a large, heavy cast iron skillet works best), heat the oil on the stove over medium heat.
- Add the onions and sweat them until they are translucent and soft. Then add the celery, bell pepper, and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft and well cooked.
- Add the ground beef. Stir frequently to break apart any lumps of uncooked meat. Continue to cook until the meat is well-browned. Then stir in the paprika, bay leaf, and thyme. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Add the sliced mushrooms and stir until they are lightly cooked.
- Stir in the cooked macaroni.
- Stir in the canned tomatoes until well combined. Then stir in half the grated cheese
- Sprinkle the top of the casserole with the remaining cheese, dot with butter, and bake in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 350°F for about 40 minutes or until the cheese topping is melted and bubbling a bit.
- Serve immediately at the table with a salad and crispy bread.