This casserole recipe is something that I learned from my grandmother, and it’s more of a direction rather than a precise recipe. She and Grandpa raised four boys in a small town during hard times, and she knew how to stretch a meal to feed her family. This isn’t elegant, but it is comfort food, and we like it. It’s probably the predecessor to Hamburger Helper, because it takes hamburger and stretches it with zucchini and rice. Grandpa always grew a big garden, and this was one way to use all that zucchini.
The recipe below is just a basic starting point too, if you want it to be more Italian, replace the Jalapeno pepper with green pepper, use Italian sausage and add Italian spices, or if you’d like a more Indian type dish, use Indian spices, etc. It can be varied endlessly depending on your tastes and likes, just vary the ground meat and spices. Grandma actually didn’t put in a jalapeno pepper (she used green pepper), but we like the heat.
I make it in various ways throughout the summer and fall (we’ve joked that it’s never the same twice) as the zucchini comes in from the garden, and freeze it in quart plastic freezer containers. Then, throughout the winter and spring (until it’s zucchini season again), we thaw and reheat it for lunch and dinner. It’s always a bit of a surprise, and we always look forward to it.
- 1 1/2 lbs. of ground beef or ground meat of your choice
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 - 2 Jalapeno peppers (use more or less depending on the heat of the peppers), chopped fine
- 2 large or 3 medium zucchini, seeds removed, sliced into small pieces
- Spices as desired
- 1 cup converted rice, like Uncle Ben's
- 1 cup tomato juice
- 1 cup chicken broth or water
- 6 ounces Velveeta cheese, cubed
- Crumble the ground meat into a large non-stick pan, add the onion and pepper, and brown the ground meat, stirring to break up any large chunks.
- Once the ground meat is browned, add the zucchini slices and cook covered on low for a few minutes to wilt the zucchini a bit.
- Add the rice, tomato juice, chicken broth, and any spices that you'd like to use, and cook covered for approximately 45 minutes on low heat, stirring frequently. Depending on quantities, additional tomato juice or chicken broth may by needed (there needs to be enough liquid for the rice to absorb while cooking).
- When the rice is completely cooked (almost like risotto), the liquid is absorbed, and the zucchini is tender, add the cheese.
- Stir the cheese in, and cook covered on low until the cheese has melted.
- At this point, you can remove the lid and cook uncovered to reduce any excess liquids and bring the dish to your preferred consistency.
- Let cool, spoon into plastic freezer cartons, and freeze.
We transfer the contents of the freezer containers into a microwave safe dish and simply reheat in the microwave to enjoy.