Hamburger Helper Bolognese

Hamburger Helper Bolognese

Why do I still want to spell hamburger as hamberger? I am a school teacher who is now writing about food on a weekly basis, so one would think I should be able to spell burger on the first try. I mean, it’s got to be like a third grade spelling word. It’s a good thing I teach math all day, and you guys don’t give me grief with all of my misspellings and grammatical errors. Thank you for that. Does anyone want to be senior food editor of this website? I will give you 10% stake in the Hardly Homemade company, which isn’t even a company and is worth nothing. Deal?

Anyways! This recipe is inspired by Priya Krishna’s “Homemade Hamburger Helper” which was published in New York Times Cooking. My friend, Kate, the one with lots of good recipe leads, told me to try this recipe. I also tried to persuade her to join me on this mission, and I offered her 50% stake in Hardly Homemade. She turned it down, of course (ha!).

I don’t know what my problem is, but I have a very hard time sticking to a recipe, especially when it starts with caramelize the onions for 25 minutes. I’m sure caramelized onions add a level of sheer melt in your mouth goodness to this dish, but I don’t even have time for that sort of thing on the weekends, because, you know, I’ve got the little ones at my feet, so I went with shallots, and it was still ah-mazing.

Here is my riff of Priya’s genius recipe. I made it in 30 minutes, a little less spicy and a little more cheesy to meet the needs of my family. My son said, “Mom, this is the best recipe you have ever made!” As for my daughter, the youngest and the picky one, took a few bites and then said she didn’t like it. I knew what she was thinking, and then she said it out loud, “I can’t see the cheese.” It wasn’t cheesy enough for her. She is used to seeing elbow macaronis as mac and cheese. So I suggested that we could add some grated Parmesan cheese from the Pastene jar in the fridge to the top of hers, and that made her happy, and then she ate most it. A girl after many of our own hearts!

There is an optional ingredient which adds about 10 minutes to the dish, so if you are short on time, you can cut out the white wine step and make this in 20 minutes instead of 30, but if it’s a weekend and you have the time and the wine, go for it because it brings this dish to the next level on the wicked good scale and makes it feel like a cheesy Bolognese.

The best part of all is that it’s all cooked in one pot. Even the pasta! Which makes this even betaaahhh!!

What makes this hardly homemade?

  • Store-bought elbow pasta
  • Minced garlic (from the jar)
  • Pre-shredded cheddar cheese (the kind in the bag)
  • Very little prep (dice a few shallots and cut some bacon with kitchen scissors then over to the stove)
  • Only one pan dirtied!

Hamburger Helper Bolognese

January 4, 2021
: 4
: 5 min
: 25 min
: 30 min
: Easy


  • 3 cups of water
  • 9 ounces elbow pasta (about 1/2 the box)
  • 2 Tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil
  • 3 Large shallots
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp cracked pepper
  • 4 slices of bacon (cut small)
  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1 cup white cooking wine or dry white wine (optional)
  • 3/4 cup half and half
  • 2 Tablespoons of hot sauce (like Frank's or something of the sort)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 5 slices of American or provolone cheese, ripped into small pieces
  • 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese (bagged)
  • finely cut chives for garnish (optional)
  • Step 1 Soak the pasta in the three cups of water. Meanwhile, heat a stock pot or dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. When the oil is shiny, add the diced shallots and sauté for 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook until it smells good.
  • Step 2 Increase the heat to medium-high and add the pieces bacon and ground beef. Using a wooden spatula, break the ground beef apart as it cooks. The finer, the better. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the meat is no longer pink.
  • Step 3 Remove the pot from the heat and carefully drain most of the fatty liquids into a small bowl and discard, but leave a little liquid in the pot. Return the pot to the heat still set at medium-high.
  • Step 4 Optional step: add 1 cup of white cooking wine or dry wine to the pot. Let it come to a slow boil and then reduce until it is almost gone, about 10 minutes.
  • Step 5 Add the pasta and water (pasta stock), 3/4 c half and half, 2 Tbsp hot sauce, and 1 tsp paprika (or more to taste). Let it come to a slow boil and cook until the pasta is al dente, only about 3-5 minutes because it’s been soaking. Stir often because most of the liquids will be sucked into the pasta and reduced as it boils.
  • Step 6 Reduce the heat to low and add both of the cheeses. Stir until they are melted and garnish with chives. Enjoy!