Metro-East Living

Try these four recipes to dress your plain hamburger up for dinner

Taco Stuffed Pasta Shells have a filling that combines ground beef with taco sauce, cream cheese and other ingredients.
Taco Stuffed Pasta Shells have a filling that combines ground beef with taco sauce, cream cheese and other ingredients.

The humble package of ground meat at the supermarket needs some respect. Many of us were raised on the filling, thrifty stuff. And while it may not have the same cache as other cuts of beef, hamburger (or ground turkey, if you’re so inclined) is the staple we can count on. Plus, it’s so much leaner than it used to be, so be sure to buy at 80 percent lean ground beef.

So, throw away the Hamburger Helper and try these four recipes, which run the gamut from pastitsio (Greek Lasagna), which takes a little time to pull together, to Taco-Stuffed Pasta Shells, sure to be a family favorite. In between are Crescent-Wrapped Cheesy Meatballs (dinner or appetizer) and the exotic but easy-to-make Simple Korean Ground Beef Bulgogi.

Easy Pastitsio (Greek Lasagna)

12 ounces uncooked penne pasta (4 cups)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound extra-lean (at least 90 percent) ground beef

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 jar (25.5 ounces) tomato basil pasta sauce

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3 eggs, beaten


1/4 cup butter

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 cups whole milk

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 egg, beaten

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook and drain pasta as directed on package.

2. Meanwhile, in 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add beef; cook 5 to 7 minutes, breaking up any lumps with back of wooden spoon. Add onion; cook and stir about 4 minutes or until softened. Add garlic, cinnamon, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and the pepper; cook 1 minute. Stir in pasta sauce. Heat to simmering; reduce heat to low. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Spray 13-by-9-inch (3-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.

In large bowl, mix tomato sauce mixture, cooked pasta, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and 3 eggs. Spread in baking dish; spread top smooth.

4. In 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in flour, 1 teaspoon salt and the nutmeg. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbly. Gradually beat in milk with whisk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly; boil and stir 1 minute. Remove from heat; beat in 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. In small bowl, beat 1/2 cup of the hot mixture into beaten egg. Return egg mixture to pan, beating constantly. Pour over top of pasta.

5. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until top is bubbly and lightly browned in spots. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Tips: Smoothing the top of the pasta base as much as possible helps to keep the white sauce layer from seeping into the base.

Pastitsio, like lasagna, is meant to be cut and served in squares, not scooped out of the baking dish. Letting the dish stand at least 15 minutes after you remove it from the oven allows the pasta and topping to set for easier serving.

Crescent-Wrapped Cheesy Meatballs

While this recipe may be geared toward making an appetizer, these yummy wrapped meatballs are sure to entice the family to the dinner table. Serve with a mixed salad and you’ve got a meal.

1 pound ground beef

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

3/4 cup panko bread crumbs

1 large egg

8 ounces Havarti cheese, cubed

2 cans crescent dinner rolls

Salt and pepper to taste

1 jar marinara sauce

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place ground beef, bread crumbs, egg, water, Parmesan cheese and salt in pepper into a large bowl. Using your hands, combine the meatball mixture until it fully comes together.

2. Roll into 16 meatballs, about golf ball size.

3. Flatten out each meatball a little and place a cube of Havarti cheese in the middle. Form a new meatball around the cube of Havarti. Do your best to make sure there are no holes (some cheese will ooze out regardless of how well you do this step).

4. Place them on a greased baking sheet and bake 15 minutes.

5. Remove from oven. Turn temperature to 375 degrees.

6. Once baked and cooled enough to touch, place each meatball into a piece of flat crescent roll dough.

7. Wrap the crescent roll around the cooked meatball completely and bake another 10-12 minutes until the wrapped meatballs are golden brown.

8. Place the warm wrapped meatballs onto a plate of marinara sauce. Serve warm. Makes 16.

Simple Korean Ground Beef Bulgogi

Not familiar with bulgogi? It’s marinated beef, often called Korean barbecue.

1/2 Asian pear

1/2 white or sweet onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic

1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil

3 tablespoons honey

1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds

1 bunch green onions, finely sliced

2 cups cooked white sticky rice

1. In a blender, puree pear, onion, garlic and ginger. Pour into a large skillet. Add ground beef and cook over medium-high heat, breaking meat up with a spatula, until beef is browned.

2. Drizzle soy sauce, sesame oil and honey over the pan, cooking meat just until coated. Serve over rice and top with green onions. Makes 4 servings.

Taco-Stuffed Pasta Shells

18 uncooked jumbo pasta shells

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef (90 percent lean)

2 teaspoons chili powder

3 ounces fat-free cream cheese, cubed

1 bottle (16 ounces) taco sauce, divided

3/4 cup shredded reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend, divided

20 baked tortilla chip scoops, coarsely crushed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse in cold water; drain again.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook and crumble beef over medium-high heat until no longer pink, 6-8 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cream cheese and 1/2 cup taco sauce until blended. Stir in 1/4 cup shredded cheese.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling into each shell. Place in an 11-by-7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top with remaining taco sauce.

Bake, covered, until heated through, 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese; bake, uncovered, until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with chips. Yield: 6 servings.

Freeze option: Cool unbaked casserole; cover and freeze. To use, partially thaw in refrigerator overnight. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover casserole with foil; bake as directed, increasing time as necessary to heat through and for a thermometer inserted in center to read 165 degrees. Top with cheese and chips as directed.

Taste of Home Light & Tasty December/January 2008