I’m a fan of ground beef. I like it simply prepared as a hamburger, or added in stir fries, mixed in casseroles, and added to so many main dishes. Hamburger meat often comes to the table with assorted ingredients like tomatoes, onion, celery, beans, cheese, plus many vegetable choices. Sauces too are a popular ingredient in ground beef dishes as well as layering beef with the tang of sour cream and mayonnaise. Spices and salt enhance the flavor of beef, giving it a regional flare.
As adults, our taste buds often, but not always, hark back to our childhood. Goulash for me was not ground beef at all: it was stew meat. Ann, our Hungarian-native housekeeper cooked goulash. She served our family, my three younger sibling and I, and our parents, goulash with large hunks of beef in a saucy concoction. She added potatoes, onions, and some form of paprika. Was it Hungarian, smoked, or sweet paprika, I don’t recall, but the stew, as I named it, was yummy and we sopped it up with bread.
Throughout my marriage and once my children were born, I strayed from stews, cooking mostly hamburger and casseroles. Braising takes longer to reach a good and tender stew. (Crock-pots help a lot with that technique.). I do more braising now with a crock-pot, but still hamburger ranks high on my list of popular foods. I’m always stocking hamburger in my freezer, when it goes on sale, when I have a dish in mind, or just keeping it convenient.. It’s such an easy, adaptable and nourishing food with tons of possibilities.
Recently I came upon a familiar dish on the internet with hamburger and tomatoes. It seemed different with surprise ingredients, (corn, sour or cream cheese, water chestnuts), and too I knew I would add my own creative take to this casserole, and eliminate some of these odd ingredients which seemed weird to me, such like cream cheese. With a holiday coming up, I needed a substantial main dish. I immediately began my fun adventure in the kitchen!
As a fellow cook, I’d love to hear about what dishes you’ve made with ground beef? What’s unique about your hamburger dish? I use ground beef, sometimes turkey. I stay with 85% lean, which is 15% fat. What ratio of meat to fat do you use? For me, 80% is too fatty, but 90% or 93% is too lean and leaves out much flavor where much of the flavor is from the fat content.
85% ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 small red or green pepper, chopped
3-5 garlic cloves, minced
4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 cup tomato juice
3 1/4 cups water or beef or chicken broth, divided
3 cups tomato sauce
2 14.5 oz. cans diced or stewed tomatoes, with juices
3 bay leaves
1 8 oz. container fresh mushrooms, cut in half (any variety)
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1- 1 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 1/2 Tbsp. adobo sauce, or make your own – 1 Tbsp cider vinegar, 1 1/2 Tbsp. smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper (adjust spices per your preference)
1 Heat a large fry pan with two tablespoons of olive oil. When it begins to shimmer, add the meat. Brown the meat on medium heat for 5-7 minutes as it turns golden and looses all its pink coloring. Sprinkle on the half teaspoon of salt. Remove the meat to a plate.
2 Heat the remaining olive oil. When it begins to shimmer, add the celery, onion and pepper. Stir and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes as the vegetables turn translucent and become a little tender. Add the mushrooms, low the heat, cook about 3- 5 minutes while the mushrooms soften and release their juices. For the last minute or two, add the garlic, stir once or twice as the garlic releases its flavor. Return the meat to the pan and incorporate it with the vegetables, stirring occasionally, 3-5 minutes. Add the adobo sauce.
3 Add the tomato juice, 2 3/4 cups of water, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, the bay leaves, the beans, the Italian seasoning and the one teaspoon of remaining salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, as you add the pasta. Cook, covered for 20 -30 minutes on low heat until the pasta is tender or a la dente, as you like, adding more water or tomato sauce if the sauce seems too thick. Stir occasionally. Adjust the seasoning.
4 Stir in the cheddar cheese until it has melted. Set the oven at 350 degrees. In a large casserole dish, spoon about a third of the meat-mixture on the bottom, add a hefty layer of the mozzarella cheese, then another layer of the meat mixture, which then gets topped with more cheese, finally more of the meat and then the final amount of cheese.
5 Bake for 10-15 minutes as the cheese melts. Cool for 5-10 minutes, serve warm with a green salad and a simple vinaigrette dressing.
Tips and Tweaks
- This casserole can be as mild or spicy as you like. Add more regular pepper, or cayenne, or chili pepper to the adobo sauce for more kick. For an alternative kick add a little garam masala to flavor the dish with an Indian flare.
- Add about 1/2 to 1 cup of cooked vegetables at step 3. Cooked corn is a great addition to this dish. Perhaps leave out the mushrooms for this addition.
- Change your choice of cheeses, find other good melting selections – Asiago, Fontina, Parmesan, Guyere, or Provolone.
- Cutback on the liquid by half a cup and add about that amount of sour cream, adding it toward the end of step. 3, but do not let it boil.
- use 1-2 leeks or 5 scallions instead of the large onion at step 2
- Add several cut up carrots with the onions and celery at step 2.
- before the casserole slides into the oven, sprinkle breadcrumbs or croutons on top. Press down slightly with a spatula.