Macaroni and Beef Comfort Casserole

A term I would be happy to never hear again: “comfort food.”  Overused and a bit too folksy for my taste.  And yet, certain kinds of foods are just that, aren’t they?  Comforting and healing.   Meals that take you back to your childhood,  keep you warm on a cold day, or make you smile when things aren’t quite going your way.

When a best girlfriend called me last week to tell me she was having elective out-patient surgery, of course my first thought was that I MUST make dinner for her and her family.  And as luck would have it, this recipe happened to appear on one of the many food sites I frequent.

Just what the doctor ordered!

And lucky for me, this recipe yielded enough for two casseroles, so one for my friend’s family and one for mine.    I also had an opportunity to try out one of my finds from the new spice shop that opened last week nearby:  Smoky Hills Cheese Powder.  I know that thought of cheese powder does not sound inherently appealing, but it is all natural and really boosts the cheesy flavor.  It’s a new secret weapon in my spice cabinet!

The verdict from my family was an enthusiastic thumbs way up.  And well,  I admit going  in for seconds,  which means I definitely need to run my three miles today.   A small price to pay for enjoying a delicious and yes….comforting meal.

Macaroni and Beef Comfort Casserole

  • 12 to 16 oz. elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for tossing
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • One 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes (I like Muir Glen’s Fire Roasted Tomatoes)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)…or more if you really love cheese
  • 1-2 TBS Savory Spice’s Smoky Hills Cheese Powder (optional)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni until al dente. Drain well and transfer the macaroni to a bowl. Add a drizzle of olive oil and toss well.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the ground beef and cumin and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browned and any liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Add the flour and cook until no floury taste remains. Stir in the tomatoes and stock and simmer until thickened, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the macaroni, cream, parsley and 1 cup of the cheddar cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Transfer the mixture to one very large (or two medium-sized) ceramic baking dish(s) about 2 inches deep. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of cheese and panko on top. Bake for about 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling and the cheese is melted. For extra crunchy topping, run under the broiler for a few minutes.   Let stand for 5 minutes. Scatter the scallions on top and serve.

Make Ahead

The unbaked casserole can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before baking.

2 thoughts on “Macaroni and Beef Comfort Casserole

  1. This reminds me of hamburger goulash my mother-in-law used to make with macaroni, hamburger, ketchup and cheddar cheese….EXCEPT you have taken it to a new level I’m sure I would prefer.

    How did you know I wouldn’t like the sound of cheese powder? But I love secret ingredients so I’m willing to give it a try.

  2. 🙂 I too was a little apprehensive about the cheese powder, Paula. Until I tasted a dip made with the powder and some sour cream when I was visiting the spice shop. Oh my, it was delicious and Ive been using it ever since.

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