THE WASHINGTON POST – Many of us have childhood food memories that seem incongruous when examined in the context of our present-day-to-day lives. Recently, a reader on The Washington Post’s afternoon food chat said she was looking for a way to re-create a favourite childhood food: Chef Boyardee Pasta Beefaroni.
I could relate to that reader’s request because my mother used to, occasionally, allow us to get Chef Boyardee as a treat. Why did I think a can of Italian food was a treat? I’m betting because it was salty and sweet, and because often the TV commercials were (and still are) aimed at kids. But I also remember thinking it was cool that I could make it myself. Open the can, spoon the food into a pot and heat. Done. It made me feel grown-up. (I was partial to the mini-ravioli in a can, as well as the boxed pizza mixes.)
I grew out of my fascination with the packaged Italian food at an early age, but I still understood where that reader was coming from. Tasting something from days gone by can be evocative. It can put a smile on your face – even make you feel safe.
When readers request recipes, it often stays in the back of my mind, so recently as I was re-organising my cookbook collection and came across Skinnytaste: One & Done by Gina Homolka with Heather K Jones (Clarkson Potter, 2018), I stopped in my tracks when I saw her recipe for American-Style Cheesy Beef Goulash and Macaroni.
I whipped up a batch in my Instant Pot, took a bite and – you guessed it – it brought back that same comforting feeling that those cans of food did back in the day. And it was almost as easy to make.
I did not do a taste comparison – and I have not had a Chef Boyardee product in decades – but I am betting this mild dish would scratch that reader’s itch and be a kid-pleaser in many homes. In fact, I found Homolka’s recipe so inoffensively mild, I tweaked it a bit by adding another garlic clove and a splash more Worcestershire sauce, as well as dried oregano and crushed red pepper flakes, to give it zing. I also used sharp cheddar cheese. (In another batch, I minced a serrano pepper, with its seeds, to add even more kick.)
You might be asking yourself: Why is this recipe called goulash? Other than the paprika and onion, this dish has little in common with that traditional dish of Central Europe.
As Homolka notes in her cookbook, “This is not the kind of Hungarian goulash I grew up eating with my European immigrant dad.”
That is an apt description.
The other great thing about making this saucy dish yourself – rather than opening a can – is that you can control what goes into it. Homolka’s cookbook, which features 140 “no-fuss” dinner recipes, recommends low-salt broth and 90 per cent lean beef, or even ground turkey or chicken. She noted that whole wheat and gluten-free pasta will work in this recipe, too.
Her version of this dish made me wonder which other childhood favourites might work their way back into my everyday life – with a few tweaks and flourishes, of course.
INSTANT POT AMERICAN-STYLE CHEESY BEEF GOULASH AND MACARONI
Six to eight servings
This recipe was tested using a three-quart Instant Pot; the amount of liquid is enough for it to work in a six- or eight-quart model, as well.
Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to three days.
Half teaspoon olive oil
One medium yellow onion, chopped
One pound lean ground beef
Two teaspoons sweet paprika
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
One red or orange bell pepper, seeded and chopped
Three garlic cloves, minced or finely grated
One tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
One teaspoon dried oregano (optional)
Half teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
One can tomato sauce
One can diced tomatoes
One and 3/4 cups low-sodium beef broth
Eight ounces elbow macaroni
One bay leaf
3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus more for serving
Chopped fresh parsley leaves, for serving (optional)
Set a programmable multicooker (such as an Instant Pot) to SAUTE. Let the pot heat for two minutes, then add the oil and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to soften and brown, about five minutes.
Add the beef, paprika and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, breaking the meat into small chunks, until no longer pink, about four minutes.
Add the bell pepper, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, oregano and pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and softened, about five minutes. Add the tomato sauce, tomatoes, broth, macaroni and bay leaf and stir to combine.
Cover the appliance and make sure the steam valve is sealed. Select PRESSURE (HIGH) and set to five minutes. (It takes about 10 minutes for the appliance to come to pressure before cooking begins.)
Release the pressure manually by moving the pressure-release handle to ‘Venting’, covering your hand with a towel and making sure to keep your hand and face away from the vent when the steam releases.
Top the goulash with the cheddar, cover and let sit until the cheese is melted, about two minutes. Garnish with the parsley, if using, and serve either in a large, family-style bowl or in individual bowls, with additional cheese on the side, if desired.
NOTE: To make this on the stove: In a large pot or Dutch oven with a lid, over medium heat, follow the direction as above up to the point of pressure-cooking. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover and cook the ingredients for 20 to 25 minutes or until the pasta is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add the cheese, cover until the cheese is melted, about two minutes, and serve with parsley on top.
NUTRITION (BASED ON SIX SERVINGS)
Calories: 463; Total Fat: 21g; Saturated Fat: 9g; Cholesterol: 69mg; Sodium: 387mg; Carbohydrates: 44g; Dietary Fibre: 5g; Sugar: 7g; Protein: 25g.