Photos by Alex J Harris
Dinnertime can be tricky in our house. As a senior manager with a large corporate, my husband’s work schedule is packed and erratic. His day starts when he leaves the house just before 7am; he is rarely back home before 8.30pm. This leaves a window of about an hour for a family dinner and some time together before he heads back to work in our home office. Most evenings he has calls with the Americas late into the evening and sometimes even into the early hours of the following morning. My biggest issue is the fact that the time we eat dinner is never set, and can vary anywhere between 8 and 9.30pm. It’s more luck than judgement as to when I need to start preparing dinner to have it ready at the right time, so I try to develop recipes that will hold well if I happen to get the timing wrong. This is one of these. It does require a bit of chopping, stirring etc, so it’s fairly hands on to prepare, but you only need one pot, and if you turn the heat back and stir it occasionally it will hold for a while. I’ve even been known to transfer the whole lot from the pan into a casserole dish, pop a lid on it and keep it warm in the oven – at which point it becomes Creamy Beef and Pasta Casserole. I am nothing if not flexible.
This recipe makes 6 servings.
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef (pasture raised or free range if possible)
1 yellow or red pepper, de-seeded and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced in thin rings
1 zucchini (courgette), sliced in half vertically and then cut in half moons
¼ cup sherry or Madeira (optional)
2 generous tablespoons all purpose (plain) flour
2 cups beef stock
about 4 cups milk
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 cups pasta shapes (I use whole wheat pasta for this recipe most of the time)
¾ cup grated cheddar cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (or use more cheddar if you prefer)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a very large frying pan with a lid over medium heat. Sauté the onion for a few minutes until it begins to soften. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute or so longer.
Add the ground beef to the pan, breaking it up as you do so. Brown the meat with the onions and garlic, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the pepper, carrots and zucchini, and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the sherry, if using, and stir through, cooking for a few minutes so that the meat can take up the flavour while the alcohol evaporates.
Sprinkle the flour over the meat and vegetables and stir in. Cook for a minute or so. Add the beef stock and stir though. Add the 4 cups milk, basil and oregano. Increase the heat a bit, and stir constantly until the mixture just begins to come to the boil.
Stir in the pasta, turn the heat back, and pop the lid on. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente.