Saturday, April 21, 2012

Stuffed Beefaroni Peppers

Let’s answer the most obvious question first: What exactly is beefaroni? Wiktionary says it’s a “baked dish of macaroni, beef, cheese and tomato sauce,” and, from what I can tell, it can apply to any baked pasta dish – it’s not a word Chef Boyardee came up with himself. However, the canned, capital-B Beefaroni version is what’s called for here and the Chef does promise “lots of beef, no preservatives, totally delicious,” which sounds promising enough.

Stuffed Beefaroni Peppers are the first entry in my homemade cookbook, and it’s unclear which magazine the recipe was cut from. It’s safe to assume, however, it was an ad featuring the very product it stars.  I didn’t dine on much canned, ready-to-eat foods like Beefaroni back in the 1980s, which is one reason, no doubt, I was so enamored of this recipe. That and the fact that, then or now, I’ve never met a pasta dish I didn’t like.

The recipe is simple and surprisingly economical (both peppers and Beefaroni were on sale for $1 apiece at my local Safeway; one can only imagine how inflation has affected both of these items) and, even better: Pretty darn fast. Weekday fast – though I made it on a Saturday night.

If I’m being honest, it’s not the Beefaroni in this recipe I’m dreading – it’s the green peppers. While I’m a fan of red, yellow and orange sweet peppers, green peppers have only a very limited place in my kitchen – in the base of a gumbo or dirty beans and rice, say. The greens play a very minor role, however, due to their unfortunate effects on my digestive system. I remember going through a beef-and-rice-stuffed peppers phase in my early teens after my beloved Seventeen magazine did a piece on easy dinners to make for your family.  (Please tell me you still encourage this kind of behavior, Seventeen!) Mostly, I remember the smell of smooshy, boiled peppers and the chorus of burps that followed the meal. (Very much better was the magazine’s recipe for a no-boil lasagna dish – one could say beefaroni, I suppose – that you covered with plastic wrap and tinfoil and steamed in the oven for almost two hours. Wish I had cut that one out.)

Cooking up the peppers is as stinky as I remember. They emerge from their five-minute bath in boiling water wrinkled and a bit floppy. They’re still firm enough to stand when I place them in my 9”x9” pan, though, and start spooning in the filling. After topping them with mozzarella, I pop them in the oven for 15 minutes.

Plated, they have definite appeal – blistered and bubbling with golden brown cheese. For comparison, I’ve cooked one orange pepper and it glows like a sunburn next to its green companions.

My prediction is that my pasta-loving daughter and her meat-loving brother will scoop out the Beefaroni innards and leave the pepper shells sagging empty on their plates, but I’ve reckoned without the most important factor in single-serve entrees, and the single-biggest clue as to why my eight-year-old self chose this recipe: They're cute. My daughter realized it immediately: “Oh, my sweet little pepper bowl!”  She devoured the innards and a good portion of her pepper (she chose the orange).

No less enthusiastically, my husband and I dug in. The sauce had that sweetness that is ubiquitous in canned, ready-to-eat foods (think: Spaghetti O’s). Though the Chef has promised me “lots of beef,” it is listed fifth on the ingredients label and is really hard to find. Cheese is listed eleventh and is impossible to find, though there is a slight powdery macaroni-and-cheese tang. The green pepper taste reminds me of a supreme pizza, and the shelf-stable firmness of the noodles is reminiscent of airplane lasagna.

But, surprisingly, this dish is somehow more than the sum of its “semi-homemade” parts. I’m not sure I’d put it in heavy rotation, but, yeah, it’s pretty good. It’s quick. It’s fairly healthy. And it doesn’t break the bank.

Score one for the eight-year-old.

Stuffed Beefaroni Peppers
4 large green peppers
1/3 c. chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T. butter or margarine, melted
2 cans (15 oz.) Chef Boyardee Beefaroni
1 can (8 oz. or ½ c.) whole peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 tsp. oregano
4 mozzarella cheese strips

1.     Remove tops, seeds, membranes of peppers. (Reserve tops, chop to measure 1/3 cup.) Cook 5 minutes in boiling water. Drain, set aside.
2.     Sauté onion, chopped green pepper, garlic in butter. Add Chef Boyardee Beefaroni, tomatoes, oregano. Simmer about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.
3.     Stuff peppers with Beefaroni mixture. Put in baking dish, top with cheese strips.
4.     Bake at 400-degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Serves four.

The recipe doesn’t specify how much mozzarella to use – stating instead to top each pepper with a vague “mozzarella cheese strip.” I found 2T. of grated cheese was a nice amount – gooey but not overwhelming.  I used part-skim, low-moisture cheese.

I added back all the chopped pepper tops. The recipe only asks for 1/3 c., but I had about ½ c. total, and I hate waste.

I had enough filling left to stuff another small-ish pepper. If your peppers are on the larger side, you will likely not have this problem.

Why Don’t You…
·      try smoked mozzarella to top the peppers?
·      play around with different colored peppers?
·      stuff peppers with homemade beefaroni leftovers?

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