I almost didn’t share this recipe today. For a few reasons. The first being: it’s not the most photogenic dish out there. In food blogger land, this is a cardinal sin. The second being: it’s almost too simple (aka, not that exciting? My constant fear). Another cardinal sin. The third being: cheesy beef macaroni is not exactly a novel idea. It’s been done. A million times. Heck, you can even buy a famous boxed version at the store. I wasn’t sure if this recipe was worthy of the internet.
And then I came to my senses. This one-pot meal was just too freaking delicious to not share with you guys. And besides, since when is EASY a bad thing?! I know I say this all the time, but you guys HAVE to make this for your family tonight (or at least in the near future!). It is so, so, so good and hardly takes any time to put together AND happens all in one pot. Easy peasy.
As I’ve shared in the past, my toddler has turned into a picky eater. Like, a really bad one. Sigh. It hurts my heart. BUT! I will not give up. I am constantly trying to get him to eat new things (and even some things that he has already stuck his button nose up at). Kieran pretty much refuses to eat anything green (except avocados) or meat in any form. His acceptable foods are pretty…limited. One thing he’s always good for? Pasta. Especially in the form of mac and cheese. Can’t blame him, right?
As a result, I’ve been trying to come up with a variety of healthy pasta meals that involve meat and veggies hidden beneath something I know he loves: cheese. Growing up, my mom made a version of beef pasta (I think every mom from the 80s/90s had a rendition of it), and she loved it so much that it was on our dinner table with some regularity. She nicknamed it “comfort food.” Yup.
“Hey, mom, what’s for dinner?”
The whole family loved it, and my mom loved it because it was incredibly easy to make and fed us for a couple nights. When I was trying to come up with some Kieran-friendly meals that would last over a couple nights, “comfort food” popped in my head. But I wanted to make it my own. And I wanted it to happen in one pot. Because dishes = the worst.
Voile! That brings us to today. And this insanely delicious meal. We’ve got veggies, tomatoes, some spinach (a major win in my mom category), pasta, sauce, beef, and even some cheese all simmering away in a pot until it’s creamy, thick, and homogenous…oh, and DELICIOUS.
Not only did Kieran inhale this (much to my glee), but my husband and I moaned and groaned over how good it was right alongside him. This was one meal of leftovers we were happy to have all week long. So much so, that I’ve made this THREE TIMES in the past month. We can’t get enough. It’s just so EASY! And comforting. And yummy.
Which, again, is exactly why I decided to share it with you all today. I couldn’t keep this recipe to myself. Sure, there are a million and one recipes for similar pasta dishes out there, but this one is special.
But don’t take my word for it. Make it. Inhale it. You’re welcome.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb lean ground beef
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning (or dried basil and oregano)
2 teaspoons sugar (optional – I like to add a touch of sugar when using tomato paste)
2 cups baby spinach, lightly chopped
1 ½ cups milk
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1½ cups marinara sauce (I just used jarred to keep this simple but you can definitely use homemade!)
3 cups dried macaroni noodles (or other short pasta)
2½ cups shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish)
To a large skillet or shallow pot, add the olive oil and place over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, crumbling it in the pan with a spoon/spatula, and cook until browned. If there is an excess of fat, drain it off.
Add the onions, pepper, and garlic to the beef and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add in the tomato paste, red pepper flakes, dried herbs, and sugar and stir to combine. Add in the spinach and cook until it is wilted.
Add the milk, beef broth, and marinara and stir to combine. Add the macaroni noodles and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes or until the pasta is cooked through and the mixture is thickened.
Add in the cheese, mixing well to combine. The mixture should be creamy and cheesy. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Garnish with a little chopped parsley and serve.