Macaroni and Beef Casserole: Comfort food gets all haute cuisine

Food: Recipe – Macaroni and Beef Casserole

As the modern food revolution continues to make the exotic feel everyday, it’s also taking old standards such as the humble macaroni casserole and turning them into something that’s not just comforting, but au courant

By Louise Crosby

Pick up a food magazine, check the Internet, or tune into your television and you’ll notice that the conversation around food these days is quite sophisticated – it’s all about cooking like the pros and how-to videos, organics and heritage crops, locally-grown and artisanal foods, and sustainable, small-scale farming. Ingredients that were once exotic are now everyday, there’s nothing the home cook can’t do. So a dish that harkens back to the 1950s and ’60s and calls to mind something Betty Draper might have taken to a neighbourhood pot luck in Mad Men, had she been friendlier, might strike you as passé.

But you’d be wrong if you thought this Macaroni and Beef Casserole, developed by French chef Pierre Franey in 1991 for the New York Times’ 60 Minute Gourmet column, and reprinted here, falls into that category. Yes, it’s a casserole, and yes, it calls for ground beef, but it is, in actual fact, a timeless tomato-meat sauce with pasta smothered in a creamy, cheesy béchamel. Think of it as lasagna bolognese arranged differently, or mac ‘n cheese with meat; all the component parts are there.

This is not, therefore, Hamburger Helper, nor does it belong to the family of bright green jello salads and tuna casserole made with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. It is delicious, comforting food for any era that will make you feel a lot better in the middle of yet another difficult snowstorm. Serve with a crisp green salad.

Macaroni and Beef Casserole

2 quarts water
Salt to taste
1½ cups elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped green pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 pound lean ground beef chuck or round steak
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or Italian parsley
½ cup canned crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 cups cubed or shredded Cheddar cheese
Cayenne pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Bring the water with salt to a boil. Add the macaroni; stir and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain and rinse under cold water.

In a skillet, heat the oil and add the onions, celery, green pepper and garlic. Cook, stirring until wilted. Add the meat, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the meat loses its red colour. Add the oregano, basil and tomatoes. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the cooked macaroni. Blend well and set aside. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan, and stir in the flour with a wire whisk until well blended. Add the milk, stirring rapidly, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat, and stir in the Cheddar cheese, cayenne, nutmeg, and more salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the cheese melts.

Preheat broiler.

Spoon the macaroni mixture into a baking dish measuring 7 by 10 by 21/2 inches. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the macaroni mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and place under the broiler (about 4 to 5 inches from the heat source) until it is hot, bubbling and lightly browned. Serve immediately.

Serves: 4

For more of Louise Crosby’s delicious recipes, click her archive here, or visit

THE EX-PRESS, March 2, 2016


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A classic worthy of Don Draper's mid-century dining room? A comfort food favourite? Macaroni and Beef Casserole is all of the above, and more.

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