Thursday, August 7, 2008

Goulash or American Chop Suey?

My teenage daughter Julie has been really sick for the past two weeks, so even though it’s summer I decided to make some comfort food just for her. When I was growing up, we ate goulash once a week. I’ve since learned that what we called “goulash” in upstate New York is called American Chop Suey in other parts of the country, like here on Cape Cod where I now live.

For my mom, it was an easy, economical meal that everyone in our family loved. So imagine my surprise when my own kids didn’t really take to it. In fact they seemed to hate it when they were younger. I would tell them how this was one of my favorite meals as a child and they would roll their eyes and say, “You say that about everything, Mom.”

Well not everything, but certainly goulash...and halupkis...

Despite the flack, I persisted because it is still an easy, economical meal and if I doctored it up for each fussy family member, everyone would tolerate it. I would make the original recipe for some of us. Then in a separate pan, I’d make a vegetarian version for whatever daughter/daughters was going that route by using the frozen veggie crumbles that look like ground beef.

It was during those years that I started adding cannellini beans in both the vegetarian version and the meat version. One can of beans was too much for the smaller vegetarian version and I didn’t want to waste them. Then I’d save some plain noodles and toss them with butter and parmesan for my son Tommy, who hates all casseroles.

I guess what makes comfort food so comforting is its familiarity. Now Julie loves goulash (and the rest of the clan does too – except for Tommy). Maybe someday…

The Recipe:

Goulash (or American Chop Suey)
Serves 4

1/2 box pasta in your favorite shape
1 1/4 pounds ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/4 cup yellow pepper, diced
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 - 3 cups crushed tomatoes, according to taste
1 can cannellini beans
1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Cook pasta in salted boiling water according to directions on package and drain.
Brown ground beef in sauté pan. Drain fat and add onion, garlic, celery, yellow pepper and sauté over medium heat until tender. Add diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, herbs, salt and salt and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes. Add cannellini beans and three quarters of the cooked pasta. Stir and check for moisture. If too juicy, add the rest of the pasta. If too dry, add more crushed tomatoes. Simmer five more minutes until heated through. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Note: If fresh herbs aren’t available, substitute 1 tablespoon Italian herbs.

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