Saturday, April 24, 2010

Recipe: Alpine Macaroni (Camp Dutch Oven Method)

I first became acquainted with Alpine Spaghetti on a Boundary Waters canoe trip at Camp Widjiwagan when I was 13. It was a simple dish of noodles, parmesan, and oregano, but was quick to prepare and warmed us up after a rainy day of paddling on the lakes. 

25 years later, I found myself car-camping in Rocky Mountain National Park with the boys (ages 2 and 5).  With the sun setting and thunder booming through the valley, I was once again in search of something quick, substantial, and kid-friendly.

I had high hopes for a full night of sleep from the boys.  To increase the odds of that (by ensuring no one would wake up hungry at 5am) I added ground beef to my dish.  I also tossed in some finely chopped onion—adding sweetness to complement the salty / savory nature of the dish.

The result was a really tasty meal that both kids devoured.  Another plus is that the dish required very little oversight while the tent got pitched and the tarp got hung (just in time for a downpour, as it turned out).

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef, buffalo, or turkey
  • 1 pound pasta (I used Tinkyada Gluten Free)
  • 1/4 onion, chopped medium fine
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • oil
  • salt
  • pepper

Procedure
Begin by boiling your pasta in well-salted water. The water should taste like a too-salty soup before you add your pasta (remember, most of this salt stays in the water after the pasta has moved on to bigger and better things). I boiled pasta on the old trusty MSR Whisperlite... but you could of course do it in a well-seasoned camp dutch oven over the fire.

If using separate pots, while you're boiling the pasta, heat the camp dutch oven over your fire and cook the meat (more on that in a sec). If you are using the camp dutch oven for the whole shebang; boil your pasta water, cook your pasta, drain it, mix the pasta with oil to prevent sticking, and then set it aside to wait (preferably covered and in a warm place). Wipe or rinse out the dutch oven, and proceed to cooking the meat.

To cook the meat, start with a hot, shiny camp dutch oven. We were at a USFS campground, so I let the fire die down and then flopped the grill over it and put the dutch oven right on top of the grill. You could also clear a spot to the side of your campfire, and then lay down some wood coals over which you place your dutch oven. You can adjust heat by adding or removing coals... but you want your meat and onion to brown evenly and slowly, not burn.  When in doubt, lower the heat.  When the dutch oven is hot, add a splash of oil, the ground meat, and the chopped onion.

I find that the smaller the onion pieces are, the more kid-friendly the meal is... so mine were chopped to about the size of tic-tacs.

Stir the ground meat and onion around for 10-20 minutes until cooked through. While you are stirring, add salt, pepper, and granulated garlic to taste (yes, this means you should taste it as you go to make sure you get it right!).

When the meat is cooked through, dump in your cooked, drained pasta, and add the butter. Mix things around for a minute or two to melt the butter, and then do a final taste test to adjust seasonings.

Serve immediately!

Variations: I considered adding peas to score brownie points with the wife on the vegetable front.. but forgot them at home. They would have been a nice addition.  Parmesan would have been great as well.  You could certainly add herbs or other seasonings... oregano and thyme come to mind.

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