Hamburger helper… a distant memory from my youth with that adorable little cartoon character of a weird white glove holding a wooden spoon, just ready to get to cooking! Why was this little glove the face of the brand that was all about selling boxed pasta that you put crumbled hamburger meat into? I have no idea.
To be honest, I had completely forgotten about this classic American dish. It wasn’t until Eat Figs, Not Pigs was making their own version on Instagram Stories that it planted a little bug in my ear. Needless to say, I made it immediately.
The concept and execution of hamburger helper is very simple. In the box you have loads of seasonings and spices mixed with dried pasta. All you have to do is grab a pack of hamburger meat and sauté it in a pan. Then add the pasta and some water and ta da! You have a filling, quick, and delicious meal. Well, at least I thought so when I was a kid.
Now that I have slightly more sophisticated taste buds and a substantially different relationship with my food choices, I’ve realized that I could make a much better and more respectable interpretation of hamburger helper. No shade to you little glove man, but mine’s better.
I used Cavatappi noodles because they remind me of the traditional boxed version of this recipe. But I also used large rotini noodles when I was testing this dish out (albeit drunk) and that worked great as well. I think macaroni shaped noodles would also look cute. I do not think long, thin noodles would be good for this. Just my opinion… don’t have a nervous breakdown.
The key ingredients that make this recipe sing are: fire roasted tomatoes, smoked paprika and chipotle chili powder. If you don’t have these ingredients, go buy them. They are easy to find and they are amazing. If you want to sub them out for something else then don’t tell me about it because I won’t approve!
Did I mention there are crispy onions on top? You know, the kind from the green bean casserole? Why they are only used for that one itty bitty dish beats me! I think they’re fantastic and they work so perfectly with a baked, cheesy pasta casserole situation like this. Trust.
As for the parmesan cheese on top, I like to use Follow Your Heart brand. I also really like the container the cheese comes in as you can reuse it for all kinds of storage. You could use your own homemade version of vegan parm or the Violife brand. Also, when serving, make sure that everyone gets some of the crispy cheesy onion top. It would be very mean to hog it all!
The best part about this dish is that it’s done in ONE-POT. That’s right. Brown the onions, cook the meat, add the garlic and loads of spices and then add in everything else. While the dish cooks for 30 minutes in the oven, you can clean the kitchen, set the table, and have a glass of wine! Man, I’m good.
One-Pot Hamburger Helper
serves 6 to 8, use GF noodles, if desired
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 head of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 pack Beyond Meat Sausage (preferably Hot Italian), roughly chopped
1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
Pinch of cayenne
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon dried oregano
28 ounces diced fire roasted tomatoes (one large can)
7 ounces vegan cheddar or American cheese (shreds or if using a block, diced)
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
One pound box of desired pasta noodles + water to cover
4 ounces crispy onions
¼ cup shredded vegan parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Add oil and onions to a large dutch oven and bring to medium-high heat. Sauté for a good 10 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown and slightly dark on the edges. (Think like grilled onions on a burger ;)
2. Reduce heat to medium and add the sausage and garlic. Cook, stirring often, to caramelize the garlic. Add the paprika, chipotle chili powder, pinch cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, thyme, sage, and oregano. Cook for a few more minutes to toast the herbs, stirring often.
3. At this point the mixture should smell outrageously good. Pour in the canned tomatoes, cheese, tamari, and sea salt. Mix well and continue to cook for about 7-8 minutes to bring the mixture to light simmer. Make sure to stir often so the bottom doesn’t burn. Once to a simmer, add the pasta noodles and enough water to just barely cover the pasta. Mix well and place the lid on top. Bake for 30 minutes.
4. Carefully remove from oven and take off the lid. Mix well. By now, all of the cheese should be melted and the pasta should be very close to being done! At this point you can taste a little bit and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Sprinkle on the crispy onions and some shredded vegan parmesan. Bake uncovered for an additional 15 minutes or until the top is crunchy and bubbly and the pasta noodles are thoroughly cooked. Remove from oven and let stand for a bit as it will be hot! Serve.
tips, tricks and other tidbits
Because we are not cooking and draining the pasta first, we only need a few cups of water. This way, all of the flavor from the other ingredients soaks into the noodles when cooking! When adding the water, please just make sure to barely cover the noodles. If you put too much liquid they will over cook and become squooshy like me.
This dish would be just perfect served with a simple salad with a light vinaigrette and some garlic bread. Or, instead of a salad, you could roast some lemony asparagus or broccoli in the oven while the dish cooks for a nice veggie side.
You can totally use ‘Beyond Burger’ meat if you’d like. But I prefer the flavor of the ‘Hot Italian Sausage’. I think it works really well with this recipe. I find the burger meat to have a little too much grilled/smoke flavor. I think they are working on just a plain vegan beef to sell but we’re not there yet, so this is where I’m at.
If you have fresh herbs then by all means use them! I just didn’t want to call for them and you have to buy a whole pack of fresh thyme and oregano to only use a small amount and then tell me this recipe is expensive. It’s not really but you like to give me a hard time. I do recommend throwing in some chopped fresh basil, oregano, thyme or sage if you have them. They should go in when you add the dried herbs.
You can make the whole batch of this and divide some up into ramekins and bake off for a dinner party at another time! It freezes beautifully.