I am not ashamed to say that as a child, I loved Hamburger Helper. I loved it so much that I specifically requested it at a sleepover, a story my family friend has never let me forget. Apparently, I told her that my mother makes this wonderful dish that I thought everyone would love for dinner — the illustrious Hamburger Helper. So when we were presented with the challenge of making a healthy grain recipe, my very first thought was to make my own healthy and frankly, upgraded, version of Hamburger Helper.
My first hurdle was the name. Everyone I told had the same (shocking, to me) reaction of semi-disgust and disbelief. But I persevered and I’m glad I did. I used ground turkey, whole-wheat fusilli, grated Parmesan, a touch of heavy cream and butter, and garlic to put together a completely tasty, creamy, satisfying dish. Think of it this way: It’s almost like a turkey Bolognese replacing the tomato stew-like base with creamy cheesy goodness. (Jury’s still out on a new name.)
The saltiness of the Parmesan and the slight sweetness of chopped tomatoes worked so nicely alongside the lightness of the lean ground turkey and the creaminess of the whole thing made it feel slightly indulgent while still being healthy. That my boyfriend got up from the table and went for seconds should be testimony enough.
Ground turkey can be somewhat bland if you don’t season the meat before cooking it. Before prepping the rest of your ingredients for this recipe, season your ground turkey with salt and pepper and let it sit before cooking.
Start by boiling the pasta according to the directions on the package. When done, strain and set aside in a bowl. Toss with 1 tablespoon of butter.
Put the other tablespoon of butter in a large, deep pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute before adding the onions. Cook until the onions look translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add ground turkey into the pan and break apart as it cooks with a wooden spoon. Cook until you can no longer see pink, about 6-7 minutes. Then add chili powder, salt, and pepper, making sure it distributes evenly. Then add flour to the mix until it looks like the turkey is completely coated.
Add the milk and tomato, stirring constantly and bring the mixture to a boil. Then, once it is noticeably reduced, turn heat down and let the mixture simmer covered for 3 minutes. Once the milk is thickened and reduced, add heavy cream and basil stirring consistently. Then add Parmesan cheese in small amounts, mixing well with each addition. Add the cooked pasta into the pan and let all the flavors cook together for another 3-4 minutes over medium heat. Serve immediately.