I am always on the lookout for simple dishes (preferably in one pot) which would be popular with boys on a Boy Scout camping trip. This posting is based on a Serious Eats recipe with the unlikely name “American Chop Suey (Macaroni, Beef, and Cheese Skillet Casserole)”. It is essentially a variation on pasta with tomato, beef, and cheese, with a few tricks to allow it to be cooked in one pot (or in one pot and a bowl). In the original recipe, the pasta soaks in some hot water to hydrate and partially soften, while the rest of the ingredients are prepared in the one pot. It can be done that way, or alternatively, the pasta can be added to the other ingredients with some extra water, and stirred frequently, with additional hot water added as needed to keep the dish from scorching on the bottom of the pan.
A key insight behind this recipe is that hydrating dried pasta (until it is like fresh pasta) and cooking the starches in the pasta, are two different processes, which are conventionally done together, but which can be done separately.
This is sized for 6-10 servings, and can be scaled up or down:
1 lb. macaroni
2-28 oz. cans whole tomatoes (or equivalent in crushed tomatoes)
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. butter (or simplify and replace with olive oil)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large green pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs. dried oregano
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped – divided
1 lb. ground beef
2 Tb. Worcestershire sauce
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 lb. low moisture mozzarella, cut into ½ inch cubes
3 oz. parmesan cheese, grated
Put the pasta in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Add salt. Allow to soak for 5-10 minutes until softened and partly hydrated, stirring occasionally. Drain. (Alternately, add the pasta and some water later in the process to the sauce, as will be discussed below.)
If using whole tomatoes, crush them. At home this can be done with an immersion blender. It can also be done by crushing them in your hands. At camp, it would be easier to bring crushed tomatoes, which for backpacking/canoeing can be found in foil lined paper packaging.
Heat the oil and butter in the one pot. Add the onions and peppers and book until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and half of the parsley. Saute for about a minute, until fragrant. Push the vegies to the sides of the pan and put the ground beef in the middle of the pan. Brown the ground beef and break it up into little pieces. Add the tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, and chicken broth, and bring to a simmer. Add the macaroni, stir well, and cook in the sauce until cooked, which will be about half the time shown on the package since the pasta was already soaked. Stir in the mozzarella cubes. Allow to melt and mix. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley and with the Parmesan. Serve.
Alternative – If you do not want to soak the pasta, add it to the sauce with some additional hot water, stir well, and watch closely. Add additional water as required. The objective is to have enough water to be absorbed by the pasta without having a soupy sauce.