February 10, 2003

This isn't the first time I've tried to make my own version of the Chef Boyardee classic but it's the first time that I really tried to make it authentic. Although I haven't looked at the ingredient list on a can of Beefaroni (and if I did I would probably be disgusted), I would imagine that the primary contributers of flavor and texture are beef, tomatoes, and pasta. My imitation meal would necessarily have to start with these three items.

Beef: I used 3/4 lb of ground chuck. I wanted there to be a good balance between the beef and the tomatoes. It shouldn't be like a Bolognese sauce which is all about the meat. Just in case the meat wasn't meaty enough, I added a bit of concentrated beef stock (care of Better than Bouillon) for insurance.

Tomatoes: Another reason for not using more meat is that we only had 1/2 a can of tomatoes, just enough to counter the meat. I added some chopped shallots since they make everything taste better. As a kid, I would never have accepted Beefaroni knowing that there were onions or shallots in the sauce, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was onion powder on the ingredient list.

Pasta: Although we did have a box of penne, I chose to use gemelli (fat spirals) instead. The real Beefaroni has very thick pasta tubes that I thought would be more closely matched by the gemelli than the penne. (I'm not even sure that there's a specific pasta shape that is exactly what is used in Beefaroni; it looks most like something you'd make with the Play-Doh extruder.)

I browned the beef, reserved it, and cooked the shallots in the rendered fat. I added the tomatoes to the cooked shallots, put the beef back in the pot, added the bouillon and a bit of water. I let the whole thing cook, covered, while I brought water for the pasta to a boil and preheated the oven. I dropped the pasta in the boiling water and ended up overcooking it a little. I rationalized this mistake with the knowledge that, in the can, the Beefaroni pasta is so far from al dente that it could be baby food. I mixed the pasta and the sauce and spread it into a square casserole dish. Even though it wasn't authentic, I put a mixture of bread crumbs, parmesan, and mozzarella on top because I can't resist the texture of a crispy crust. Into the oven for about half an hour until the top was browned and crispy. My "beefaroni" tasted good, not just good, but authentic. I was surprised that I was so easily able to create something that I had always thought of as an artificial taste. Perhaps I should go to the store and examine those ingredients more closely. No, I think I'd rather not know.