Lighten Up! Church Casserole ala Goulash Redone

Years ago, too long actually to remember for sure, we used to make this dish called Grecco.  It's comfort food, something I turn to every year in the Fall and then again in Winter.  It was your standard Church Casserole or Macaroni and Beef Goulash.  Elbow Macaroni, ground chuck, tomato sauce, onions, and a can of creamed corn.  It sounds crazier than it tastes because it tastes great, if made well.  Over the years I lost track of the original recipe and have adapted it and made it my own.  As I began to cook healthier and lighter, I started to incorporate more vegetables into my daily diet and this particular recipe;  taking out refined and processed foods, eliminating worthless carbs and starches, and reducing the fat and sodium.  In time, I've come to make this quintessential hamburger helper more healthful.  It's an easy fix, one that few people would notice or miss, swapping out the ground chuck for lean ground turkey or chicken; trading the can of creamed corn for whole kernels; adding in low sodium tomato sauce, grated carrots and pumpkin for fiber and flavors.  As I've said time after time, it's all about building flavors and not relying on short-cuts for taste.  Less salt and fat and more fresh seasonings and vegetables.  To wit, here is my lightened up version of Grecco, or Goulash or Church Pot-luck Macaroni Casserole.

Grecco Ingredients:

  • 1- 12 to 14 ounce box Whole Wheat or Multi-grain Elbow or Shell Macaroni - cooked to package directions - al dente
  • 1 Pound Lean Ground Turkey or Ground Chicken
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil/Vegetable Oil of choice
  • 1 Medium Onion - small dice
  • 2 Medium Carrots - shredded or grated
  • 1 Medium Red or Green Bell Pepper - small dice
  • 4 to 6 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Italian Seasonings
  • 1- 29 to 32 Ounce (Large) Can No-Salt/Low Sodium Tomato Sauce
  • 1- 1/2 Cups Pumpkin Puree
  • 2 Cups Frozen Corn Kernels
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • Cooking Spray - for casserole dish (optional)
  • 2 Cups (8 ounce package) of Shredded Low/Reduced Fat Cheddar or Cheddar Cheese Blend

Special Equipment needed:

  • Oven, Stock Pot, Casserole or Oven Safe Dish

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Season the water with salt once it comes to a rapid boil; add in the pasta and cook until it is al dente - firm but a bit of bite to it.  Drain, set the pasta aside and keep warm.
  2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat and brown the ground turkey or ground chicken until it is cooked through - about 5 minutes.  Drain off any liquid and set the browned  poultry meat aside.  
  3. In the same skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat until the oil begins to shimmer;  add in the diced onions, grated carrots and diced peppers. Saute and sweat the vegetables until the onions start to caramelize and peppers soften and start to blister slightly - about 8 minutes.  Add in the minced garlic and saute another 2 minutes.
  4. Next, add in the dried Italian seasonings to bloom the flavors, saute for 30 seconds.  Pour in the tomato sauce and the pumpkin puree, stirring to fully incorporate the liquids.   Add the cooked ground poultry back to the skillet and bring the mixture to a gentle boil.  Reduce heat once it reaches a boil.
  5. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding in salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.  Next, add in the frozen corn kernels and heat the mixture through.
  6. Add the meat/tomato sauce/vegetable mixture to the pot of warmed, cooked macaroni; stir to incorporate all the ingredients.  Taste and adjust seasonings again.
  7. Pour the macaroni mixture into the prepared casserole dish.  Top with the grated/shredded cheese.  Bake the casserole for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the cheese is fully melted and bubbling and the center of the casserole is piping hot.  Cool before cutting and serving.  Makes 8 generous servin
  8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9x13 or 4 quart casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  9. gs.  
  10. Notes: Grecco freezes beautfully either before baking or after, as left-overs.  If freezing before baking, using an oven/freezer save baking dish.  Add at least and additional half-hour to the baking time from frozen.  The cheese can either be added or omitted to an unbaked Grecco Casserole.  I find that it's a better over-all product if I leave out the cheese if I'm making the dish to freeze and use later.  Higher fiber pastas come in smaller quantities these days.  If you find a full one-pound, 16 ounce package, use it all. I've noticed that the boxes of Ronzoni or Barilla come in 12 or 14 ounce boxes.  Same thing with tomato sauce.  Use a large can of sauce - it can range between 29 to 32 ounces. 

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