Earlier this year I came across a story called Delicatessen With Love by Gabriele Galimberti, which featured a series of photos of Grandmas and different cuisines from all over the world. The photographer captured 58 grandmothers in all posing with their signature dishes. I loved the idea and even though my grandmothers have passed away, my Mom is a grandmother and I wanted to photograph her in the kitchen for my nieces and nephew. My Mom was game and there was no mystery as to the dish she would prepare – American Chop Suey.
Last week I visited my Mom at her Summer cottage on Peaks Island in Casco Bay, Maine. In terms of grandparents, we were using a bit of creative license because she had actually learned to make American Chop Suey from her Dad, my Papa Blanchard, who had prepared this meal for lunch or dinner hundreds of times in their little island kitchen.
Most folks from New England have experienced some version of American Chop Suey. It’s a classic American pasta dish made most commonly with elbow macaroni, ground beef, sauteed onion, green bell pepper, and a tomato-based sauce. As kids, my brother and sister and I would pile on generous shakes of Kraft Parmesan Cheese (you know the one – think green canister). I asked my Mom why it was my grandfather’s specialty. She said he had grown-up eating it. He was from a family of 11 kids and it had been important to have an adaptable recipe requiring readily available ingredients. It is also nostalgic, comforting and delicious.
American Chop Suey (recipe told by Mom, Mayb)
This is for a large batch; don’t know how to do it otherwise! It can be frozen, but that doesn’t happen much, even with a large batch!
1 1/2 lbs ground beef (80 – 90% lean)
1 large green bell pepper, chopped finely
1 large onion, chopped finely
3 cans tomato soup
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese for topping (Parmigiano-Reggiano or Kraft – your choice)
Add ground beef to a medium-hot skillet and begin to break it up. I don’t add butter or olive oil. Once meat begins to brown, add the green bell pepper and onion. (Sometimes I’ll add chopped mushrooms). While cooking the meat through, boil the pasta. When meat is cooked, add tomato soup. Season with salt and pepper. Then combine with pasta.
Sometimes I’ll save a little pasta water and add it back in because the tomato soup is too thick. I’ve also been known to thin it out with a little white wine.
Full-disclosure, during the mise en place phase of lunch prep last week, we managed to misplace one can of tomato soup. The two of us searched high and low to no avail. We ultimately compensated for this loss with a liberal ‘splash’ of Sauvignon Blanc.
It had been raining all morning, but the sun came out just in time for a picnic lunch overlooking the bay.
It was perfect.
Worth noting, if you’re in the area, Peaks Island is a wonderful place to visit. You can find more information here.