Thursday, September 25, 2014

Wagon Wheel Pasta

This is comfort food at its best. A neighbor in the apartment building I grew up in made something similar, and I was enthralled by it the first time I tried it. He called it "hot dish." Now, I know that "hot dish" is a Minnesota thing, and it isn't just one single recipe. Then, I thought that single recipe was Hot Dish, and I loved it.

It was completely different from anything I made at home, and that's probably why I like it so much when he sent over a sample.

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved my mother's spaghetti sauce. It was a long-cooked meat-based tomato sauce with oregano and other herbs.

The hot dish our neighbor made was pretty much the opposite. It was a super-quick dish rather than a long-cooked one. There was no oregano or fennel or marjoram or basil. No herbs at all. It was stunning in its simplicity. Instead of melded and merged flavors, the hot dish was all about the separate flavors.

The tomatoes weren't completely fresh in the that hot dish, but they weren't simmered all day, either.

It was a revelation ... you could have pasta without cooking sauce all day.

I still love a long-cooked pasta sauce, but sometimes this is exactly what I want.

Wagon Wheel Pasta

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, roughly diced
1 green pepper, cored, seeded, and diced the same size as the onion
1 clove elephant garlic, finely diced
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound ground beef
1 can petite diced tomatoes
Several generous grinds black pepper
1/2 pound mini wagon wheel pasta, cooked al dente
1 cup tomato juice (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the onion, green pepper, garlic, and salt. Cook until the vegetables are cooked almost all the through.

Add the ground beef and cook until the meat is no longer pink, breaking it up into small bits as you cook it. It's fine if there are some small chunks.

Add the diced tomatoes and black pepper and stir to combine. Cover the pan and cook on low until most of the moisture is gone.

Add the cooked pasta and stir to combine. If it needs a little more moisture - and to help to come together - add some of the pasta cooking water. Taste for seasoning and add salt or pepper, if needed. If you're like more tomato flavor, add the tomato juice and cook for another few seconds.

Serve hot. If you like, sprinkle some grated cheese on top.