I think my first chef crush was on Chef Boyardee. No joke. How could one man get such deliciousness into a tiny, convenient can? And it was tasty every single time I popped that metal lid. Naturally, when I was thinking about meals to make for lunches, I had to do my own Beefaroni. While Chef B's will always have a special place in my heart, I think this version is a definite improvement on a good thing.
The sauce itself is worth having more than just a "taste" every few minutes, so try to restrain yourself — at least until you add the pasta. And that's before you add any cheese!
The sauce is almost like a quick bolognese. I have you add the tomato paste to the meat. This is to make sure the paste gets evenly distributed. Plus, cooking the paste a little bit deepens the flavor. At this point, you may notice that the bottom of your pan has some brown bits. Don't worry — as long as it isn't blackened, this is a good thing (just watch that heat!). There's caramelization happening here — your meat's going through the Maillard reaction and the sugars in the onions and tomato paste are cooking. That's just gonna make everything taste better. And that's where the broth comes in.
If you're like me, you don't always have beef broth hanging out in your pantry, but you always have chicken broth or stock. That's okay; you don't need to make a special purchase. You can use either — they're both meaty. When you add the broth, make sure to scrape all the bits off the bottom of the pan. This ensures you to get all that good stuff in your sauce. After that, all that's left to do is to add the tomato sauce and simmer.
Now here you can do one of two things: You can leave it to simmer just until your pasta is done, or if you're proactive and started this way before you want everything ready, you can leave it to simmer for up to three hours. But you have to make sure to add about 1/2 cup of water every 30 to 45 minutes or else your sauce will reduce too much and end up burning. The longer it simmers, the more developed the flavors, of course. It'll still be really delicious if you just simmer it while you work on the pasta, though. That's what I did, and I didn't think twice about the thought of my roommate catching me licking my plate.
Serves 6 to 8
pasta shells, medium
medium onion, minced
ground beef (sirloin)
thyme (dried, or a few sprigs tied in a bundle)
each salt and pepper
(6-ounce) can tomato paste
beef or chicken broth
(15-ounce) can tomato sauce, or 2 (8-ounce) cans if that's what you have
sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Heat olive oil in a deep oven-proof skillet or 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté onion until translucent.
Add ground beef and brown. Season with oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper. Mix in the tomato paste until combined.
Add the broth, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir in tomato sauce. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta until just before al dente. Drain and add back to pot. Add pasta to meat sauce and gently stir to combine. Sprinkle with cheese. Broil about 1 to 3 minutes or until cheese starts to bubble and lightly brown.