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Gluten-free "Hamburger Helper"

211There’s something appealing about a meal-in-a-pan, something with meat and pasta and cheese, that reminds me of being a kid and watching Happy Days while my Mom made us dinner. It was never Hamburger Helper from a box – I had to wait until I moved out on my own to spend money on the neon stuff – but the real thing, made from scratch in our electric skillet. I use cast iron now – any large, heavy skillet will work well for this.

We’re trying to cut back on wheat around here, and so often use brown rice pasta in place of the regular stuff – it has a smooth mouthfeel, so appeals to those who aren’t so enamored with the graininess of whole wheat pasta.

Try using ground turkey or bison for a leaner version of this one-skillet pasta (OK, it uses a pot too – cooking the pasta in the meat mixture would make it too starchy); add a sausage or two as well if you want to boost flavor – but make sure it’s gluten free if that’s what you’re going for (many sausages have wheat crumbs as filler). A spoonful of cream cheese stirred in will make the sauce even creamier.

Gluten-free “Hamburger Helper”

Ingredients
2-3 cups brown rice pasta – rotini, macaroni, penne or any chunky shape
canola oil, for cooking
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 lb. lean ground beef or bison
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 750 mL jar tomato sauce
1-2 cups grated cheddar, Monterey Jack or other meltable cheese

Directions
In a large pot of boiling water, cook pasta according to the package directions until tender but still slightly firm to bite. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat a drizzle of oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Cook the onion for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Add the beef or bison and cook until no pink remains, breaking it up with a spatula or spoon. Add the garlic and red pepper and cook a few minutes more, until the vegetables are soft.

Add the tomato sauce and heat through. Add the drained pasta and stir to combine everything well. If you like, stir in the cheese until it melts, or sprinkle it overtop and place the skillet (as long as it’s ovenproof) into the oven or under the broiler for a few minutes to melt the cheese. Serve warm.

Serves 4-6.

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