It’s not my mother-in-law’s goulash, rest her soul.
I could be wrong about this, and I can no longer verify it with her, but I think her recipe went something like this. Boil macaroni and drain. Add browned ground beef and maybe some onions? Drown the whole mess with a bottle of catsup. Add a lot of cheddar cheese and stir it up good. My husband loved it. But that’s a lot of sugar, so I resist.
When I recently saw a recipe for “American Chop Suey” in Cook’s Illustrated, I was mystified. I’ve never heard a mixture of beef, tomatoes, sauce, and macaroni called such a thing. Then again, maybe you’ve never heard it called “goulash,” which is only a distant relative to “Hungarian Goulash.” But I recognized the food in the picture as a first cousin of my husband’s beloved goulash, so I immediately began to gather the ingredients.
I followed the recipe fairly closely with these exceptions:
- I used cheap ground beef and drained the grease, which means I ended up with a little less beef but more flavor. I’m OK with that.
- I used red bell pepper instead of green–a standard substitution in this house.
- I substituted pasta sauce for the tomato sauce.
- I used some Parmesan cheese, but I also added some cheddar.
When I tasted the end product, something was missing. You guessed it. It needed some catsup, but not the whole bottle. Just a couple of glugs brought back all kinds of memories, added some sauciness, and a touch of sweetness I crave way too often.
I didn’t add it this time, but next time I’m going to throw in a squirt of Rooster Sauce (Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce) just to make things more interesting.
- 12 ounces elbow macaroni
- Salt and pepper
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 1 cup frozen, chopped onion
- ¼ cup chopped red bell pepper
- 2 celery ribs, chopped finely
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 (29-ounce) can tomato or pasta sauce
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup catsup
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- Boil pasta in salted water for 3 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
- Brown ground beef. Season with salt and pepper. Drain off excess grease. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Saute onion, bell pepper, and celery in same pan until softened and lightly browned. Add tomato paste and stir, continuing to cook for about 2 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes along with tomato sauce, tomatoes, water, and cooked ground beef. Simmer until vegetables are tender, 15-20 minutes.
- Remove from heat, stir in macaroni, cover and allow to sit about 10 minutes.
- Stir in catsup and cheese. (If you don't have Parmesan, we like cheddar too.)
- Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with additional Parmesan if desired.