No. 298: Southwest Skillet Ragu

Now, I'm not a big boxing fan, but you couldn't argue the significance of last night's Mayweather/Pacquiao fight and the fact that so many were tuning in. It was also a good excuse to have a bunch of people over, eat some traditional Southern fried food and take in the scene.

And people, what a scene it was. For me, the fight wasn't the highlight. It was all about the pomp and circumstance leading up to it:

  • Jamie Foxx and the national anthem - I'm sorry, but this was too over the top to take seriously. And the 'hallelujahs' at the end were hilarious.
  • Jimmy Kimmel as part of Pacquiao's entourage- The Pac-Man shirt. The hat. The 'hard' face. It was fantastic.
  • How much do you think that Burger King had to pay to have the King enter with Mayweather? To me that was way more interesting than the fact that Bieber was there.
  • The country of Mexico was a key name sponsor. Who knew that a country could sponsor an event? They even had the Mexico national anthem at the start, confusing everyone in the world for about two minutes.

The fight itself, underwhelming. The spectacle? Totally worth it.

Side note: The Kentucky Derby and birth of a Princess also made May 2nd a pretty terrific Saturday!

Southwest Skillet Ragu

Whether you call it goulash, cheesy mac or homemade Hamburger Helper, everyone needs a version of this recipe in their repertoire.

Ingredients

Serves 4 to 6

2-3 cups elbow macaroni
1 1/2 pounds ground beef or turkey
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 medium sweet bell pepper, chopped
8 to 12 ounces (1 package) white or baby bella mushrooms, quartered*
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne or red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus extra to serve
Salt and pepper

*I subbed in carrots for an earthy and sweet note. Zucchini or summer squash could also be delicious.

To make

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water, and cook the pasta until it is barely al dente and still a little too chewy. Scoop out a half cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the pasta, reserving the cooking liquid for later use.

While the pasta is cooking, begin cooking the ragu. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil over medium-high heat in a skillet or Dutch oven deep enough to hold everything. Add the ground beef and cook until browned all the way through, about 8 minutes. Transfer the ground beef to a plate. Pour off any grease, leaving behind just enough to film the bottom of the pan.

Cook the onions in the skillet with a half-teaspoon of salt until they are soft, translucent, and beginning to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the mushrooms (or any other vegetables), and cook until they have released all their liquid and turned golden brown, another 5 to 6 minutes. Add the peppers and cook until softened, another 2 to 3 minutes.

Meat and veggies

Stir in the garlic, spices, and another half-teaspoon of salt, and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Pour tomatoes with their juices into the pan and bring to a rapid simmer. Add the hamburger back to the pan.

Simmering

Simmer until the liquid has reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cheese and the pasta, and stir until the cheese is melted and gooey.

Final pan

Taste and add salt, pepper, or more spices to taste. Add some of the reserved cooking water if you'd like a thinner ragu (I definitely didn't see this as necessary). Spoon into individual bowls, top with an extra scattering of cheese, and serve!

Time Saver Tip from The Kitchn:
To save yourself an extra step, you can actually cook the pasta right in the skillet along with the ragu. Add it in with the tomatoes, along with an extra 1/2 cup of water. The pasta will absorb the flavorful cooking liquid and release starch, making the dish extra creamy as well as save you a pot to clean later.

The results

A big pot of homemade comfort food goodness is what this is. A reliance on pantry staples also makes this dish incredibly easy to prepare whether you have time to think about it ahead of time or not.

Cheesey bowl

And there are all kinds of ways to play with it:

  • Use the meat/pasta/veggie ratio that works best for you and your family. I like the higher pasta quantity, but you could easily get by with just 1 cup of noodles.
  • Or you could make the ragu to serve over thick egg noodles without every incorporating them in the ragu itself.
  • Use smoked cheddar to add even more depth or a can of black beans to make it even more "SW."
  • Add a few splashes of milk and extra cheese to get the sauce super creamy at the end. (If you do this, I'd drain the tomatoes before adding or reduce the overall liquid a bit.)

And if you want to get super traditional and make a real Hungarian goulash, check out this recipe.

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