I came across this recipe in my June/July 2010 copy of Cook's Country, and have adapted it below. It's been sitting patiently in my to-try pile ever since and I sure wish I hadn't waited so long. The standard macaroni noodles and crushed tomatoes are elevated to a whole new level with the addition of banana peppers which really brighten and freshen up the flavor of the tomatoes, and the basil adds a sweet note. The cheese gives it the final touch adding a rich and creamy flavor. It's not trying to be spaghetti, the sauce is much lighter and fresher than that. This is a great recipe that's going into our regular rotation.
The winner here for us is that the ingredients are normal purchases for us, not anything fancy or that would only be used for this one recipe. The HubLub was skeptical - we've tried a few skillet mac dishes which have all been ho-hum - and when he saw the ingredient list he thought for sure he'd have to add some chili powder or cumin to spice it up and get some flavor out of it. We were both surprised at how different this tasted from all the other recipes we tried. The canned tomatoes didn't even taste canned, it was that good! The recipe claims it serves 4, but I think you can get 6 reasonable 1 1/2 servings. Serve it with some bread and veggies and you're good to go. This is a great weeknight dinner, it's a 30-minute type of recipe and it's all cooked in one large skillet, which really helps with clean up. Go ahead, give it a try and let me know what you think.
1 tablespoon canola oil (or another vegetable oil)
1/2 - 1 pound 85% lean ground beef (we used a little more than 3/4 lb and thought that was just fine)
1/2 teaspoon of salt (plus more for seasoning)
1/4 teaspoon pepper (plus more for seasoning)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes in puree
2 cups water
12 ounces elbow macaroni (I could only find a 16 ounce box, so I used used my scale to measure out 12 oz)
1/2 cup drained jarred mild or hot banana peppers, chopped (I know this sounds different, but I promise you don't want to skip this because it really brightens the sauce, you can skip chopping them and just pick out the pieces when you eat it, like the HubLub did)
1-1 1/2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
Pour oil in large non stick skillet (with a lid) and heat on medium-high until shimmery. Brown beef with the salt and pepper. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (30 seconds or so).
Stir in tomatoes, water, macaroni, and banana peppers. Cover and cook about 7 minutes, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, about 7 minutes or until al dente. Turn off stove.
Stir in 1/2 cup cheese and basil and add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with remaining cheese using as much or as little as you like, cover and let sit until melted, about 1 minute.