To be precise, this meal, in today’s terms would be called ribbed penne with a beef ragu. But my mum never called it that, she called it macaroni and it was a regular on the menu in our house. It is a simple dish, something mum no doubt learnt from a Croatian woman somewhere, for mum wasn’t Croatian and because she married one, there had to be some kind of European representation on the dinner front. Let me reiterate, this dish is not fancy, in fact it is dead easy, and can be applied to many kinds of meats and dishes, which the Croatians often do (with chicken pieces and rice, fish stews, mince for spag bol). It does, however take time. Like the beef pie recipe, it can be cooked at a stretch in an hour if you cut the beef small. But this recipe gets significantly better after a few hours simmering on the stove, and even more so by an overnight stay in the fridge. This for me, is the ultimate comfort food. Cuts of beef suitable for this recipe are chuck steak, shin, skirt steak and stewing steak.
500g Chuck steak, diced
1 diced onion
1 heaped tsp minced garlic
1 heaped tbl spn tomato paste
handful of parsley
Ribbed penne pasta
Saute onion and garlic
Turn heat up in pan and brown beef
Stir in tomato paste and cover with water.
Bring to boil, and then turn heat right down to simmer for as long as possible. Adding more water when needed
Season to taste.
Thicken with flour and water (see notes)
Boil up pasta and serve with Parmesan cheese.
Notes on the recipe:
I kept the original recipe here, to show how easy it is to make something homely and tasty and cheap for dinner.
But you can add some things to give it a bit of oomph if you like. Sometimes I add some celery salt when I’m sauteing the onions – mainly because lately I put celery salt in everything I make…just a bad habit really.
Or you can add parsley, oregano and basil or even use a tin of tomatoes instead of tomato paste, for a more Italian vibe.
Or, now here’s a little tip I learned, you can add in a rind of Parmesan from the beginning, to give it a really rich flavour. Or a bit of Vegeta if you want to cheat a little.
Since having kids who don’t eat their veges, I have started putting grated carrot and zucchini in too, and sometimes even some shredded spinach – they never even know it’s there.
My mum thickens everything with flour and water, and so, of course I do too. It is an easy way to make a sauce thicken up without reducing it too much.
You just mix about a table spoon of plain flour and cold water in a little bowl so that it’s like a runny paste. Then stir it into the sauce. But it is best to turn down the heat when you do it, so it doesn’t cook into lumps when you pour it in, and also stir in quickly with a big whisk or spoon to avoid lumps.
Serve it up with lots of Parmesan cheese.
See all the deep orange, oily bits? That’s how you know it will be a good, rich sauce. You can only really get that by long, slow cooking.