Nothing says and feels like comfort food more than beefaroni. My healthy Beefaroni recipe is a hearty, filling (almost) one pot, that is easier to make from scratch than you might think and is much healthier than the old school canned version that was often seen on supermarket shelves in years gone by.
I have a few cleaver little hints and tips to share to bring this nostalgic classic bang up to date and make serving up a healthy Beefaroni recipe an absolute doddle.
Healthy Beefaroni Recipe Ingredients
Preparing a healthy bolognaise sauce from scratch
For me beefaroni has three component parts. And the most labour intensive and time consuming of these is making the meat and tomato sauce or ‘bolognaise’ from scratch.
For me healthy eating is making wholesome food from scratch using fresh ingredients where I can. Firstly, the finished dish tastes much better and perhaps most importantly I know exactly what I’m eating and feeding to my family. I find that most shop-bought pasta sauces are loaded with sugar, salt and preservatives so I opt for canned or fresh tomatoes and seasonings from herbs.
It’s easy to add layers of flavor to a homemade tomato sauce by using good quality stock, perhaps a splash of red wine or apple juice, tomato puree and a pinch of salt and sugar. Making your own bolognaise means that you know the provenance of the ground meat that you choose too. Opt for grass-fed if at all possible and one with a low-fat content.
I find that batch cooking a huge pot of meat and tomato sauce recipe and then portioning it into handy freezer safe bags and storing in my freezer for when I need it makes life a whole lot easier. Then, when I want to cook beefaroni for dinner I can simply take a portion out of the freezer the night before ready for me to assemble once it’s thawed the following day.
This batch cooked bolognaise sauce is so versatile and can be utilised in loads of different days. I use it as a base for home-cooked meatballs, cannelloni and lasagne dishes. I also use it to spoon over cooked pasta or rice for a quick mid-week dinner or serve it in scooped out peppers or squash as part of an impressive autumnal feast.
It’s perfectly fine to leave out the meat and make a batch of good quality homemade tomato sauce too. As before, simply prepare some oven-roasted vegetables and add it to pasta, rice, or my delicious Noodle Zoodles to make a delicious veggie dinner. Alternatively, use the tomato sauce as a base for my Gluten-free Meatballs, veggie-balls or my Healthy Cannelloni recipe.
Cheese sauce for Beefaroni
It’s also possible to make a delicious oozy cheese sauce and freeze that for later use too. Again, I have a number of uses for cheese sauce – lasagne, cannelloni, baked cauliflower cheese and other vegetable gratin dishes that make a batch of homemade cheese sauce a lifesaver when I’m short on time. Again, I know my home cooked version is free from additives and excessive salt so I know I’m doing right for the health of the people I feed.
The cheese sauce in this recipe contains a little butter and cheese but do have a read below in my tips for creating a gluten free version of this recipe that replaces the butter and cheese for cornflour.
I always opt for extra mature cheddar or parmesan so that the cheese flavour shines through and I can limit the amount I use, making it healthier overall than shop-bought.
I tend to freeze in half pint quantities and use one of these for my beefaroni recipe. This equates to just 94 calories per portion for the cheese sauce.
What pasta is used in Beefaroni
It’s tradition to use elbow macaroni in beefaroni recipes and I have to admit, it is my favourite. I have been known to use whatever I have in my store cupboard though. Penne, fusilli or rigatoni are all good. You need something with a ridge to retain the meaty, cheesy sauce.
When my kids were small I used tiny little macaroni as it was easier for them to eat rather than big pieces of pasta that made it more tricky for them to chew and scoop up with their tiny spoons.
Healthy Beefaroni Recipe Variations
Use a mixture of beef and pork mince
Whilst not in keeping with the most traditional version of beefaroni, I do often substitute 50% of the beef mince for pork. I like how this combination makes for a softer texture to the meat and also adds to the flavour.
Vegetarian Beefaroni – Vegaroni
For a lighter version of this beefaroni recipe or when I’m catering for a crowd where some of my guests are vegetarian, I’ll make vegaroni. I use the recipe as I do for beefaroni but just leave out the meat and replace the beef stock for a good quality vegetable stock instead.
To bulk the dish out and to add colour I add oven roasted vegetables. I use a combination of squash, red onion, red and green peppers and sweet potato that have been cut into bite sized pieces and roasted in the oven for 35-40 minutes on 180c. Scatter a few herbs on top before cooking to add even more flavour.
I tend not to add any oil to the dish as I find the veggies just become soggy and greasy. If you keep an eye on them whilst they are cooking and turn them in the dish regularly, they’ll crisp up a little around the edges to add more texture to the finished dish.
To make a vegan beefaroni recipe you could follow my instructions for vegaroni and substitute the cheese sauce ingredients with vegan butter, milk and cheese. Make sure your macaroni pasta doesn’t contain eggs as some do.
Healthy Beefaroni Recipe
Healthy Beefaroni Recipe
For the Beefaroni Sauce
- 500 g lean beef mince
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
- 3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
- 2 celery stalks (trimmed and finely diced)
- 2 medium carrots (finely diced)
- 2 tsp dried herbs (oregano or thyme are good)
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and freshly milled pepper
- 1 tsp sugar
- 125 ml red wine or apple juice (optional)
- 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 500 ml good quality beef stock
- 250 g elbow macaroni
For the cheese sauce
- ½ pt semi-skimmed milk
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 25 g butter
- 1 tsp English mustard or ½ tsp of mustard powder
- 50 g parmesan or extra mature cheese
- In a large frying pan add 1tbsp olive oil and then tip in the onions. Fry on a low heat for 5 minutes until soft and translucent.
- Add the garlic to the frying pan and cook gently for a further 2 minutes. Stir often to avoid burning the onions and garlic as this will give the dish an acrid taste.
- Add the celery and carrots. Give everything a good stir to combine all the ingredients together. Cook for 2 minutes more.
- Push the vegetables to one side of the pan and fry the mince on a medium heat. Cook until the mince has browned slightly. You may need to do this in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan.
- Once the meat is browned add the herbs, bay leaf, tomato puree, sugar, salt and pepper and give everything a good stir to combine.
- If you want to add more flavour you can add the optional 125ml of red wine or apple juice at this point. Increase the heat and allow the liquid to bubble for 3 minutes while the alcohol from the wine burns off causing the liquid to reduce slightly.
- Now add the tinned tomatoes and beef stock. Allow the mixture to come to the boil.
- Once it reaches a boil reduce the heat to medium, pop on a lid and let the whole thing simmer away for 30 minutes.
- The bolognese will be cooked through at this point but for a more intense flavour and richer sauce you can transfer the mixture to a lidded pot and into an oven that has been heated to 170c fan and cook for a further 1.5 hours.
- Once the bolognese is cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool for a while.
- While the bolognese is cooking put your elbow pasta on to boil. Follow the cooking instructions on the packet but be sure your macaroni is al dente (i.e. it has a slight ‘bite’ to it).
- Continue to make the cheese sauce while the bolognese and macaroni are cooking. To do this, heat the milk until it is nearly at boiling point. You can do this in the microwave in a microwavable jug or on the stovetop in a suitably sized saucepan over a low heat.
- While the milk is heating through, put the butter into a clean saucepan. On a low heat allow the butter to melt. Once melted, add the flour and whisk vigorously until combined. Allow the butter and flour mixture to cook gently for one minute. You may see a few bubbles appear and that’s totally fine but don’t let the mixture burn in the pan. Keep stirring.
- Gradually add the milk to the butter and flour mixture. Add the milk little by little to prevent any lumps forming.
- When you’ve added all of the milk you can increase the heat to medium to allow it to come up to the boil. Make sure you stir continuously to prevent any burning on the bottom of the pan or any lumps forming.
- Once it is boiling and has thickened you can turn the heat back down and add the cheese and mustard. Allow it to bubble away gently for a minute or so. You should now have a creamy and glossy cheese sauce.
- For the final stages, combine the pasta and cheese sauce with the meat and tomato sauce mixture. First, add the drained pasta to the bolognese sauce then add two-thirds of the cheese sauce. Give everything a stir so it’s well combined.
- For an extra cheesy topping with a crunch, transfer the mixture to an ovenproof dish, pour over the remaining sauce and sprinkle with a little extra cheese on top. Pop it under a pre-heated grill for 3-5 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbling.
- Serve immediately with a fresh and crunchy salad.
Healthy Beefaroni Recipe Ingredient Substitutes
You could easily substitute the macaroni for another type of pasta of your choice in this beefaroni recipe. It’s a tradition of course to use elbow macaroni here, and I admit, it is my favorite. I have been known to use whatever I have in my store cupboard though. Penne, fusilli or rigatoni are all good. You need something with a ridge to retain the meaty, cheesy sauce.
Gluten free Beefaroni:
To make this delicious and healthy beefaroni recipe suitable for gluten-free eaters, you could substitute the macaroni for gluten-free pasta. There are some great varieties available in supermarkets and good delis these days. Alternatively, why not try the recipe using rice instead of pasta?
Opt for a gluten free flour when you make the cheese sauce too. I like Sweet rice flour as it produces a really smooth finish and can be used in the same quantities as regular flour.
You could also make a cheese sauce using cornflour. Replace the regular flour and the butter for 2 tablespoons of corn flour. Put the cornflour in a small jug and add a small amount of the cold milk taken from the half pint needed. Mix the corn flour and cold milk to a smooth paste.
Heat the remaining milk until it just reaches boiling point. Then remove from the heat. Gradually pour half of the hot milk onto the cornflour paste and whisk to combine. Now tip this into the pan with the other half of the hot milk. Whisk vigorously over a low to medium heat until thickened. Once it’s thick you can add the cheese of your choice and mustard if you wish.
Using 50% pork mince and 50% beef mince adds an even softer texture to the finished dish. It also elevates the flavor I find. Try to use the best quality meat you can afford and certainly one with 5 or 10% fat content.
For extra flavor, you can add 125ml of red wine or apple juice once you’ve browned the meat and added the herbs and tomato puree. Increase the heat and allow the liquid to bubble for 3 minutes while the alcohol from the wine burns off causing the liquid to reduce slightly. Then continue to follow the recipe by adding the tinned tomatoes and stock.
Cooking the meat and tomato sauce on your stove is delicious enough and does save time if you want to get on with your beefaroni dish. My personal preference is to transfer the cooked meat and tomato mixture in a lidded pot to an oven that has been heated to 170c fan and cook for 1.5 hours. I do this once I’ve added to tinned tomatoes and stock and brought it up to boiling point. I find that this gives the meat a softer texture and allows the tomato sauce to thicken. It also intensifies the flavor significantly.
For this healthy Beeferoni recipe, I find that leaving the finished meat and tomato sauce to cool once you’ve finished cooking it allows the flavors to mingle and creates an even more delicious and accomplished dish. It’s more time-consuming yes, but if like me you’re okay with batch cooking so you have enough to freeze for another day and another dish, this step will be a breeze.
If you’ve batch cooked this healthy Beeferoni recipe, wait until it cools then separate into portions that will be big enough to serve in the quantities you need. One kilo of meat will make 12 individual portions.