Stir-crazy cooking: Tuesday Night Special offers special kind of comfort in uncomfortable times
In crazy, uncertain times, thoughts go to the familiar, the homey, the comfortable. And what's better than comfort food at making us all feel better.
Some might crave mac 'n' cheese, others pizza or burgers, or turkey and stuffing. For me, it's the Tuesday Night Special.
I'm sure a variation of this dish is in rotation in many households, made a little differently with different names. But I'll share my family's recipe.
The Tuesday Night Special was born out of my mom's ability to make things fun. When she and my father first married and worked as reporters, money was a little tight. They got paid on Wednesdays, and so by Tuesday, dinner was inexpensive and mostly crafted with what was at hand.
Elbow macaroni? Check. Onions? Check. Ground beef? Check. Celery and either tomatoes or tomato sauce? Check and check.
Put it all together and you've got something special, with plenty of room for substitutions.
Add chopped green peppers if you're out of celery. Add peppers even if you do have celery for extra crunch. Use a can of diced tomatoes instead of tomato sauce. Just don't call it chili mac. Chili mac is fine, but it calls for a whole lot of cheese. No, the Tuesday Night Special is best with just a sprinkling of Parmesan when serving.
I don't make it much anymore; it's a childhood tradition that has slipped away. My mom's not around to make it; my brother says he's eaten enough of it for life.
Nowadays, if I do make it, I use a spicy marinara sauce and lean ground turkey. I caramelize the onions, add garlic and dress it up with chopped parsley, cavatappi noodles and freshly grated Parmesan.
I don't know how to make a small batch after making it for years for the whole family, so I make a lot and eat it for lunch for a week.
Looking for a little comfort under quarantine, I went back to the original and made it with real ground beef. Then, I got to thinking about what makes comfort food so appealing. I think it's simply the taste and smell of something that makes you feel safe.
Tuesday Night Special
1 pound of elbow macaroni or cavatappi, cooked al dente per package directions
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
1 large yellow or sweet onion, chopped
1 pound of lean ground beef or turkey
4 ribs of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
8 to 12 ounces of tomato sauce. You can substitute canned chopped tomatoes or a chunky marinara sauce
Cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions.
In a large saucepan or skillet, pour in the oil and saute the chopped onions 4 to 5 minutes on medium heat. You don't want the onions to brown. Add in the ground beef or turkey and break it down with a wooden spoon until it's all browned and crumbled. You want the meat and onions to meld here, almost mush together. Drain off any fat. Put the pan back on the heat and add the celery, garlic and oregano. Add salt and pepper. Pour in the tomato sauce. The point is you're not making a meat sauce. Use just enough tomato sauce to bring all the ingredients together.
Add the drained pasta to the meat mixture, folding it in to get the meat and sauce over the noodles. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and some chopped parsley.
Variation: Wilt two or three handfuls of spinach leaves on top of the finished dish and fold in before serving.
Reheat leftovers using more tomato sauce, as it's been absorbed by the noodles.
Serves 4 to 6
Adapted from a recipe by Nancy J. Stark