Ground beef and Swiss chard simmered together in beer, then combined with gruyere cheese in a casserole topped with breadcrumbs and more cheese.
1/2 pound pipe rigate pasta noodles (see notes)
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup breadcrumbs (see notes)
1 1/2 pounds ground beef, 85% lean
1 cup yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bunches Swiss chard
1 12-ounce bottle lager-style beer (see notes)
8 ounces gruyere cheese, shredded
1. Set a large pot of water on the stove over high heat to bring to a boil for the pasta. When boiling, salt the water generously then cook the pasta until al dente (it will absorb liquid in the casserole and continue to cook later, so don't overcook it).
2. Meanwhile, remove the stems from the chard leaves, and tear the leaves into large pieces (about 2 inches in diameter). Swish the torn leaves in a large bowl of cold water to wash away any dirt or grit (you may need to change the water a couple of times depending on how much dirt your chard had to begin with). When washed, allow the chard to sit in the final water bath until you're ready for it.
3. Melt the butter over medium heat. Once the foam has begun to subside, stir in the breadcrumbs and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt (or half as much if using table salt). Continue to stir with a wooden spatula and toast the breadcrumbs to a golden brown color, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with the rack in the middle position. In a separate large pot, warm 2 Tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and 1/2 teaspoon salt (or half as much if using table salt) and brown the meat, breaking up large clumps, for 8-10 minutes.
5. Turn the heat to medium and add the onions to the meat along with another Tablespoon of oil. Saute the mixture for about 5 minutes, until the onions are soft and beginning to turn golden. Add the garlic and saute briefly, just until fragrant.
6. A handful at a time, lift the chard leaves out of the water, briefly letting most of the water drip back into the bowl, then stir them into the meat mixture. Let the chard simmer in the meat mixture for about 5 minutes with the lid askew. Turn the heat to high and pour in the bottle of beer. Bring to a boil and let it reduce by about half as it boils, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in half the cheese (reserve the rest of the cheese for the top of the casserole). Stir until the cheese is completely melted and evenly incorporated into the mixture.
7. Stir the pasta into the meat sauce, then pour the mixture into a large baking dish. Scatter the remaining cheese over the top, then sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over the casserole. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the casserole is bubbling.
This recipe makes a large casserole which could probably feed 6 people as a dinner. This would also be perfect to bring to a potluck or a football-watching party, as it serves a lot and really sticks to your ribs. But if you're cooking for a smaller group, or don't have a large baking dish, you can easily cut this in half.
I love the pipe rigate noodles for this! They have a big opening on one end and a narrowed opening on the other, so they are great at trapping all those juicy bits of ground beef inside the noodles. But I'm not sure whether they're easy to find everywhere. So if not, look for a pasta that is a similar size, with some sort of opening or nooks and crannies to hold all the yummy bits. If you end up going with something small like elbow macaroni, you'll likely need to use more than the half-pound called for here.
I used homemade breadcrumbs from a stale baguette for this. This is my usually breadcrumb situation - I break the stale baguette into chunks, whir them around in my food processor, and voila, I have breadcrumbs, which I store in the freezer for some future use. I'm not familiar enough with store-bought breadcrumbs to know how they would work here. If you don't have homemade breadcrumbs, my advice would be to skip them rather than sub store-bought. And I wouldn't use panko crumbs here; I think they're just too big and in-your-face for this.
I created this recipe using Victoria, a light-flavored lager-style beer that was everywhere during my recent trip to Mexico. The idea is to use a beer that gives the dish a hint of beer flavor without taking over.