Thursday, March 17, 2011

Italian Hot Dish

Recipe modified by Gretchen Wilson – February 3, 2011
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of it, please click here.

Recipe originally published in Taste of Home’s daily e-zine on Thursday, August 7, 2008.

With my imminent return to the working world, I’m stockpiling up on casserole dishes.  I want things I can assemble and store in the fridge and then toss in the oven when I get home from work.  Even better, my husband can toss them in the oven.  I love lasagna, but it can be a lot of work, so I always look for similar casserole dishes that I can throw together easily.

My finished product:

© You Want Me to Cook?

Picture published with recipe:

© Taste of Home

It’s a pile of food, so it’s hard to say if it looks the same or not.  My casserole did brown nicely and looked fantastic on the plate.  This dish’s aroma filled the house and I couldn’t stop smiling, or for that matter digging into the casserole dish every time I passed it.

for more details about what my ratings mean, go to Gretchen’s Rating System

MessEH – The good news: the sauce is prepared in one dish, there’s minimal chopping and the casserole is self contained.  The bad news: there’s a messy, seed-filled green pepper to chop, you have to drain the meat after cooking and you have to transfer the sauce to another dish.  The good balance out the bad, though, and the recipe doesn’t have any hidden disaster potential.

Start-to-Finish Time: OVER AN HOUR – The hands on time is takes about 45 minutes and the cook time is around 40 minutes, so once you get it assembled, you can focus on making a salad, setting the table or doing the other million things you have to do in the evening.

Prep Work: SLIGHT BLOOD LOSS – Granted, you have to chop a green onion, which can cause a slight mess, but nothing has to be done with precision.  Also, save yourself some time and buy pre-sliced mushrooms.  It makes everything much easier.

Ease of Recipe: COOK IT IN MY SLEEP – If boiling pasta and making a sauce is too much for you (and it isn’t, trust me) you may have difficulty tackling this recipe.  The recipe contains very simple ingredients and equipment that you can find at every grocery store.

OverallYUMMY – It was a very “homey” dish that smelled fantastic.  It was a very typical Italian beef and pasta dish.  Would I make it again?  Sure, but there are other recipes I’d want to try first.

Recipe Information:
Time estimates are from the original publisher of the recipe, not the length of time it took me to create it.  Look for my comments below.  Nutritional Information is based on original recipe.  Any changes I make to reduce the caloric, fat, cholesterol or sodium content are not reflected in the Nutritional Information.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Bake Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 4

Nutritional Information
  • Calories 391
  • Total Fat 12g (Saturated Fat 5g)
  • Cholesterol 65mg
  • Sodium 663mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 36g
  • Fiber 3g
  • Protein 33g

I’m not sure what Taste of Home figures to be “Prep Time”.  At first I thought that perhaps they included the chopping of the vegetables, but honestly, doing all the chopping, cooking the pasta, making the sauce and assembling the dish would be difficult to complete in 30 minutes.  Here’s how it broke down for me:
  • Prepping ingredients: 15 minutes
  • Creating sauce/cooking pasta/Assembling Casserole: 33 minutes
  • Bake time: 45 minutes

Those are some pretty hefty serving sizes if you only get 4 servings out of this recipe.  It is a pound of ground beef alone, let alone all of the pasta and vegetables in the dish.  I stretched it out much further by eating it with some bread and a large salad.  We got 6 full servings out of the dish.

The nutritional information doesn’t seem that bad, although the fat content is a little high.   Also, since you use canned tomatoes, the sodium level is elevated.  I changed the dish slightly to improve the numbers:
  • To lower the carbohydrate count and boost the fiber/vitamins, I used wheat pasta (well a blend at least).
  • I used ground round to lower the fat and cholesterol content, but ground sirloin would even be better.
  • You can purchase no-salt added tomato sauce to help lower the sodium level.

Changes denoted by red text

1½ cups uncooked small pasta shells
1 pound lean ground round
1 cup sliced white fresh mushrooms, divided
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
1 can (15 ounces) tomato Sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon pepper
½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
4 teaspoons shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
Cooking spray

Ingredient Notes:
Small Pasta Shells
  • I had a lot of partial boxes of small shell pastas taking up my cabinet space.  I decided to start using them until I got the 1½ cups of small pasta that this recipe needed.  I ended up with a blend of regular mini-shells and wheat macaroni.
  • Many an Italian has told me that wheat pasta is blasphemy.  Personally?  I can’t tell the difference.  However, the original recipe does call for traditional pasta, so feel free to use it in the event (a) you can’t find wheat or (b) you can’t bring yourself to eat the wheat.

Ground Round – The ground round I had was 85% less fat, but I usually go for ground sirloin, which is at 90%.  The other great thing about using a lower fat meat is that you won’t have to drain a lot of grease from the pot after you’ve browned it.

© You Want Me to Cook?
White Mushrooms – there was no specification on the type of mushroom to use, so I stuck with the basic white variety.  I also bought pre-sliced to save myself some time.

Onion – they didn’t specify which type of onion to use, so I purchased the white variety.  Approximately one small onion, gave me the ½ chopped that I needed

Green Pepper – I used ½ of a small-medium pepper to get the ½ cup of chopped that was required for the recipe.

Tomato Sauce
  • The recipe called for a brand specific tomato sauce, but I used store brand to save a little money.  Also, they had 8 ounce cans on sale that day for next to nothing, so I bought 2 cans for the recipe.  I used them both, which means I had an extra ounce in my sauce.  I’m not worried.
  • A lot of the sodium level is from the canned tomato sauce.  Apparently, Hunt’s brand tomatoes/sauce is now coming as “No Salt Added”.  I have been searching for them, but haven’t found it yet.  If you do find it, this is an option for you to reduce your sodium intake in this recipe.

Shredded Parmesan Cheese – the recipe called for grated, but used what I had on hand, which was shredded.

Cooking Spray – the baking dish is supposed to be coated in cooking spray.  Of course, they don’t include this in the ingredient listing, so I made sure to include it.  That way you can make sure you have it before you go to the grocery store and back.

Equipment Needed:
© You Want Me to Cook?
Cutting board
Sharp knife
Large sauce pan
Wooden spoon
Dutch oven/Large skillet with lid
Large spoon
2-quart Baking dish
Aluminum foil

Equipment Notes:
Dutch Oven/Large Skillet – if you don’t have a large skillet that is deep (there is a significant amount of meat, sauce and vegetables in this dish) as well as large, just use your Dutch oven.

Baking Dish
  • The recipe called for an 8” square baking dish, but when I placed the pasta in it (prior to pouring in the sauce, vegetables and cheese) it just didn’t seem to hold it all.  I ended up using my 2-quart baking dish instead.
  • Ordinarily the difference between glass baking dishes and metal baking pans are the ability to withstand extreme heat and altered baking temperatures.  However, according to Better Homes and Gardens metal pans can react with eggs and acidic foods like tomatoes, so make sure you use a glass baking dish for this recipe.

Aluminum Foil – although I do have a glass lid for my baking dish, I don’t really trust putting it into my oven, so I used aluminum foil to cover my casserole while it was baking.

Ordinarily, I recommend you prep your ingredients before getting started.  For this recipe, I changed things a little.  Read on!

(1)  Before prepping ingredients, start the pasta cooking water to boil.  Then, prep the ingredients before proceeding.

(2)  Start cooking pasta, following package directions.  If the water has not yet boiled, proceed with the next steps and start cooking the pasta when the water is ready. 

NOTE: Drain the pasta as soon as it is finished cooking, even if you haven't finished the next several steps.

© You Want Me to Cook?
(3)  While pasta is cooking, in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, cook the beef, ½ cup mushrooms, onion and green pepper until meat is no longer pink; drain.


© You Want Me to Cook?
(4)  Stir in the tomato sauce, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

This really isn’t a recipe notation, but doesn’t this sauce look terrific?  It took all that I had to not break open a loaf of Italian bread and start dipping and eating.

© You Want Me to Cook?

(5)  Drain pasta; place in a 2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray.

(6)  Top with meat sauce and remaining mushrooms.

 (7)  Sprinkle with ¼ cup mozzarella cheese and 2 teaspoons Parmesan cheese.

(8)  Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350°F for 35 minutes.

(9)  Uncover; sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Bake 5-10 minutes longer or until heated through and cheese is melted.

This was a good, hearty pasta dish that had an Italian flair without being lasagna.  It was easy to throw together and I’ve even considered making the pasta sauce to throw over spaghetti!

I think it may be time to reinforce a very specific cooking rule.  When you are reaching for the stove, LOOK AT IT!  I was reading my recipe, which was attached to my refrigerator, and decided to grab a spoon and stir.  What I ended up grabbing was the hot burner.  That definitely woke me up!

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