“Did I tell you about the Cowboy Spaghetti?” I was on the phone with my friend Tammy, talking on my earbud as I hurtled down I-380 on the way home from work one night.
Tammy fell silent. For a second, I thought I’d lost connection.
“Didn’t I tell you about the Cowboy Spaghetti?” she asked.
I remembered, then. She had told me about it, but that was back when she first started cooking out of Rachael Ray’s Express Lane Meals. At the time, I listened with interest, but, since I didn’t have a copy of the cookbook, shuffled it off into the Dead Letter Office part of my brain.
In July, a friend here in Iowa gave me a copy of the cookbook for my birthday present. I browsed through the recipes, identifying ones that looked particularly interesting and truly express-like. I am a Rachael Ray fan, but I find that most of her recipes take me far longer to accomplish than she suggests. Maybe that’s because my knife skills pale in comparison to hers, or maybe it’s just because she doesn’t mind undercooked chicken. Either way, I almost never get it done in 30 minutes or less.
Cowboy Spaghetti, though, proved an exception to the rule. It also has some other excellent qualities, including that it is an entirely adaptable recipe. It’s like the Wild West: throw in what you’ve got and let the ingredients fight it out. The version I’ve been making lately features peppers and green tomatoes from our garden, and sometimes a hot pepper or two from the local farmer’s market. If you don’t have some of those ingredients, cut it back to the basics: onions and garlic by themselves will be fine.
My endorsement is that this recipe has made it to the table once a week, consistently, since I started making it. I almost never make a recipe more than once in a long while—there are so many good things to cook in the world.
Three weeks in, I asked Steve if he minded if we had it…again. “Are you kidding?” he asked. “We can have that every night and I wouldn’t complain.”
Iowa City Cowboy Spaghetti
(Inspired by Rachael Ray’s Express Lane Meals)
1 pound uncooked whole wheat spaghetti
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4-5 slices Canadian bacon, diced
1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 or 2 green bell peppers, chopped
3 to 4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 to 3 small chili peppers, seeded and chopped (depending on your taste for heat) OR 4 to 5 shakes of hot sauce
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
15 to 20 green cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 14-oz can diced or crushed fire-roasted tomatoes and 1 8-oz can tomato sauce OR 1 28-oz can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
Shredded cheddar cheese and sliced scallions for garnish
- Boil water and get the spaghetti cooked and drained according to package directions while you work on the rest of the steps.
- Heat the oil in the pan and cook the Canadian bacon until it’s brown and a little crispy.
- Add the ground beef and cook until brown. When it’s almost completely brown, throw in the onion, bell pepper, garlic and chili peppers (if you’re using those instead of hot sauce). Let all that cook until the vegetables are softened and starting to caramelize—about 5-10 minutes, depending on how hot your pan is.
- Season the meat mixture with salt, pepper, hot sauce (if you didn’t add chilis in the earlier step), and the Worcestershire sauce. Add the green tomatoes and continue to cook another 5 minutes.
- Add the fire-roasted tomatoes and the tomato sauce, or, if you’re just using the 28-ounce can of crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes, add them now. Continue cooking the sauce until it comes to a simmer.
- By now your pasta ought to be drained and ready to go. Put it back into the pasta pan and throw the sauce in with it. Mix everything up and serve immediately, topped with shredded cheddar cheese and green onions. Cowboy hat is optional.