YOU MIGHT RECALL THE LUNCHROOM LADIES that prepared your meals back in junior high and high school. A couple decades ago I remember these unsung heroes being immortalized in a Saturday Night Live spoof starring Chris Farley and Adam Sandler.
Farley portrayed the Lunch Lady. He wore a light blue uniform, accompanied by a mesh hairnet, orthopedic ribbed shoes, and applied his humor frolicking as a dancing lunchroom lady. This television skit truly was a parody of our actual matronly ladies that labored in the kitchens in our public schools. The lunch ladies were quite skilled at handling the #10 cans of vegetables and sauces which were mixed with mounds of various ingredients to create their lunches.
Watching them handle large metal spoons was comical to me as they would blend the ingredients in huge stamped metal pots and pans. Imagining these hard-working ladies makes me smile today. They had arms that could frighten a drunken sailor. I remember peeking into the school kitchen wondering why they did not use a garden shovel, or a long-handled hoe to mix the many ingredients. It must have something to do with some code from the Health Department as I now speculate.
Our school’s cafeteria is where I was first introduced to Beef Goulash. Goulash was usually on Thursday’s lunch menu. The lunch lady’s version was always made with elbow macaroni, tomato sauce, and hamburger and onions. I have now come to understand that the only thing that this American version has in common to Hungarian Goulash is the use of paprika. Their version is called Gulyáshús. It is a dried beef and potato medley seasoned with paprika. It is described as a soup, or stew, and was made famous over the last thousand years by their country’s herdsmen. In my research, I learned that Hungarian’s have eight blends of various regional Paprikas; I’m cautious not to enter the debate as to which one is recommended especially with our already bastardized version of Beef Goulash here in the U.S. I simply use paprika in a red metal can that says Hungarian Sweet. You may have your own favorite, so please go ahead and use it.
I will let the reader decide on their noodle shapes and styles. My mother used flat egg noodles, and my school ladies used elbow macaroni. I have used many kinds at different times. My newest ingredient, cooking sherry, improves the flavor profile and adds a mature taste sensation. I still bake this in a 2- quart glass dish that always needs soaking after a couple visits to my oven.
The bottom line: Beef Goulash is a great comfort food and it is one of my favorites. The following recipe is for a much smaller crowd than my school cafeteria, and I must also tell you, this is one of the only dishes I am a fan of as leftovers. Something happens with a couple days of refrigeration. It is a dish that even a microwave can not destroy. I’ve also been known to eat it cold, just prior to bed.
1 lb. ground sirloin
Two chopped medium yellow onions
Two stalks of celery chopped
1/2 chopped red and green pepper
1 minced garlic clove
1/4 cup of dry sherry
1 - 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 - 6 oz. can of tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1-2 TBS Hungarian Sweet Paprika Salt and ground pepper
8 oz. pasta (your choice)
Topping: A blend of Cheddar and Colby Jack shredded cheese
1. In a large skillet add the olive oil bringing it to medium heat adding the onions, celery, and peppers along with the chopped sirloin broken into small pieces. Brown the meat. Add garlic, sherry, red pepper flakes and paprika and simmer for another three minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato sauce and simmer for one hour, uncovered.
2. With fifteen minutes to go in the above simmer phase, bring a pot of salted water to boil and prepare the pasta el dente (three minutes shy of the side panel cooking time). Drain.
3. Combine the meat/tomato with the cooked pasta and place in a 3 qt. Corning ware casserole dish and top with cheeses. Place in oven uncovered at 325 F for 30 minutes.
So simple and so delicious. Enjoy every bite!