Macaroni and lamb casserole with red wine tomato sauce ~ Ham Pie Sandwiches

27 June 2012

Macaroni and lamb casserole with red wine tomato sauce

macaroni casserole with browned ground lamb in red wine tomato sauce

It's summer! It's hot! Let's talk about making hearty, rib-sticking casseroles, ok?

HA HA HA oh I'm actually serious. You can take the girl out of the midwest, I guess.

I work at home, so I frequently end up actually stopping work and cooking lunch in the middle of the day. While this is ok--breaks generally help with work--it can definitely become a major intrusion if I'm in the middle of something but realize I need to eat ASAP. So I decided it would be a good plan to freeze a batch of casseroles that I can just stick in the oven (or, better yet, the toaster oven) to cook while I work.

I decided on the ultimate heritagenous comfort food: macaroni casserole. When I was growing up, this consisted of browned ground beef and tomato sauce mixed with macaroni and mozzarella cheese and baked. This time, for a little more interest and a little less ground beef, I decided to go for ground lamb in a red wine sauce with fennel seed and oregano. A good deal all around.

I made about enough pasta to fill an ordinary 9x13 casserole dish, but split everything into three smaller dishes. If you want to have a larger freezer stash, or bake half and eat it now, feel free to make as much as you please.

Macaroni and lamb casserole with red wine tomato sauce

ground lamb
olive oil
onion & garlic
mushrooms, red pepper, whatever other veg you want
tomato puree/sauce/whatev
dry red wine of your choice
fennel seeds, oregano, basil, red pepper flake, salt, pepper
macaroni/chunky pasta of choice
mozzarella/other cheeses of choice

Game plan: Brown lamb. Make sauce. Cook pasta. Combine everything into a selection of casserole dishes. Bake or freeze according to your current priorities.

Ok! Start by heating up a wide & deep saute pan, adding a small slug of olive oil, and crumbling in half a pound (or more) of lamb. You could also use a deeper sauce pot, since you'll be cooking the sauce in this pan, but I like the wide pan for faster liquid evaporation. Season with some salt, pepper, and fennel seed, and stir to mix, breaking up any larger chunks of lamb as you go. Cook until browned, stirring frequently. Then drain off and discard most of the fat, leaving just enough to saute your vegetables, and remove the lamb to a plate.

Chop up an onion and a handful of garlic cloves and add them to your saute pan. Cook to soften while you chop up whatever other vegetables you want. I used mushrooms and red pepper, but hearty greens, summer squash, or eggplant would all work too. Add your veg to the pan in order of necessary cooking time, starting with those that take longer. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and some red pepper flake to taste; cook to soften. This is also a good time to put on the water for your pasta.

Next, add your tomato puree, stirring to mix & deglaze. Bring to a simmer before adding the cooked lamb and a glassful of red wine of your choice. You could also use dry vermouth (or no alcohol at all) if you don't want to deal with an open bottle of red wine. Stir well and bring back to a simmer. Reduce the heat and cook slowly for about ten minutes, or until the sauce reaches your preferred consistency.

red wine marinara with browned ground lamb

Don't you just want to get in there and swim around? No? It's just me?

Ok. While your sauce is simmering, cook your pasta. Any chunky pasta should work here; I used a ridged macaroni. You can also shred or chop the cheese of your choice while you're waiting. I used mozzarella for ultimate heritagenousness, but various grating cheeses, provolone, or more highly flavored oozy-melting cheeses like fontina should all work. It just depends on your tastes.

When your pasta is done, drain it. Taste your sauce and correct any seasonings. Add your drained pasta to the sauce, stirring well.

Your pan should look like this, complete with unruly steam curling up into every picture.

macaroni casserole with browned ground lamb in red wine tomato sauce

Everything is cooked; now it's time to assemble. Add an even layer of the pasta and sauce to your casserole dish(es), filling it a bit less than halfway. Add a layer of the cheese of your choice. Cover with another layer of pasta and sauce. Finish with a second layer of cheese.

Now you can either bake your casserole or cover it and put it in the freezer for future application. I froze all of mine, personally.

When you want to bake, take your casserole out of the freezer and let defrost a bit while you preheat the oven to 350F/175C. If you're using Pyrex or other ovenproof glass, it's important to bring the glass up to room temperature before you put it in the oven. I usually run them under warm tap water if I don't have enough time to defrost them for real. This is not a big deal as long as your casserole dishes have lids. If you're using ordinary tins, it's fine to just put them straight into the oven.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until hot through and bubbling.

Hooray! Low-effort, hearty, & serious food!


Jes said...

This looks awesome for any season--totally the kind of fare my mom would have cooked up (you know, not with lamb but with really gross, cheap chuck or something). I'm kinda craving a casserole now, though. Look what you've done!

Kat said...

I get distracted from work by thinking up meals too. I love casseroles but I've actually never made one myself, even though I'm a big fan of easy, tasty meals made in bulk. Once it cools down I will be returning to this!

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