Recipes From the Farmers’ Market: Cheesy Pasta Casserole

I started out calling this “Beefy Pasta Casserole” because that sounded more like something out of the 1950s (more on why that was appropriate below), but decided that name just lent itself to too many inappropriate jokes.  (Bet you wish you could un-read that sentence!)

I made this initially because I was at a restaurant the other day and ordered a burger.  But in an effort to avoid Sad Cow, I left the meat off.  (The server was WAY confused: “We have a bean patty!”  “No thanks, I don’t care for them.  I’m good with no meat.”  “So . . . do you want chicken?”  “No, I’m good.”  “But . . . wait . . . you just want the vegetables????”  Alllllllrighty, then.)  So I ended up with a hamburger bun, buttered and – er – “garlicked,” piled with grilled red onions, swiss cheese and sauteed mushrooms.

YOU GUYS.  It was AMAZING.  So I decided to try and recreate it at home, minus the “burger” construct, but using pastured beef (aka Happy Cow).

Ingredients:
1 1/2 Tbs butter
3 medium onions, sliced thinly
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sugar
8 oz. Swiss cheese
1 lb. ground beef
3 cloves minced garlic
2 10-oz. packages sliced mushrooms
2 Tbs flour
1 cup half-and-half or milk

The Recipe:
Combine the butter, onions, baking soda and sugar (to carmelize) as directed here.  Layer them across the bottom of a glass baking dish. 

In the same pan you cooked the onions in, cook the beef.  Layer that over the onions.  Sprinkle about half the cheese on top.

Back in the pan, sautee some garlic until fragrant.  Add the mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes, until they start to soften.  Add the flour, and cook for another 5 minutes or so.  Add the milk or half-and-half and cook until the sauce thickens.  Pour that over the top of the baking dish, top with the remaining cheese and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. 

How Did it Go?
YOU GUYS.  It did NOT GO WELL.  I’d added the half-and-half to try and thicken it up at the end, but no dice.  I essentially baked a sauce.  So I tried to fix it.  I added 8 oz. penne pasta, cooked, and stirred the whole thing together and rebaked it.

YOU GUYS.  It still did NOT GO WELL.  Frankly, it tasted like the 1950s, and NOT in a good way.  You know that kind of indefinable, beefy-but-bland-but-rich sort of taste that you get when you cook from an old cookbook?  It tasted like THAT. 

Now honestly, once I added the pasta, it wasn’t THAT BAD.  It wasn’t inedible, and in fact I did eat most of it over the course of several lunches and dinners (mostly because I couldn’t bring myself to throw out $7-a-pound ground beef) – but it honestly wasn’t GOOD, either.  Plus, it was a pain to fix, what with all the cooking in the pan and transferring to a baking dish and cooking and transferring and cooking and . . . you get it. 

I thought about not publishing this at all, but I’d already decided that I’d publish the bad ones, too.  Mostly I decided to do that so that I wasn’t throwing things out and re-cooking just for this blog (because my wallet canNOT handle that – see above re: $7-a-pound).

On the plus side, I think I figured out how to make something that still has all the garlicky, buttery, onion-y, mushroom-y goodness of that sandwich, but doesn’t involve tasting like the 1950s.  (Hint: I’m starting with a salad next time.)  I’ll post it eventually.  😉

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