Generally, we’re meatless on Monday.  Unless I’ve posted 4 dessert recipes, IN A ROW!  We need some salt, carbs and beef in our lives right now. So I bring you, Homemade Hamburger Helper.  Hello my comfort food bff.

I went on a quest to find a sophisticated pasta dish using a combination of a vodka cream sauce and a bolognese sauce. And somehow I ended up with hamburger helper (sans vodka). True story.  It’s not a long story, so I’ll fill ya in….

During the process of creating this recipe I had serious doubts about using ground beef with a pink sauce… I mean ground beef and marinara, duh, no brainer. There’s the bolognese I was wanting. Or beef with some kind of cream sauce, stroganoff anyone?!?! But beef with BOTH marinara AND  cream sauce, should I even go down that road?

My brain was questioning the idea as one hand was dumping alfredo into marinara and the other hand was stirring. My brain kicked into gear as I got a whiff of the intense garlic and basil aroma. And then my eyes were mesmerized by the cream swirling into the sauce. It was at that moment I KNEW I made a good decision.



After the sauce simmered I tried a spoon full. My very first thought was, “oh snap, I just made myself some hamburger helper.”  Which is more than ok with me.

As a kid, I thought Hamburger Helper was a gourmet meal. I loved the stuff with all my heart. I haven’t had it in YEARS, like, maybe 18 years???? But the memory of the aroma, flavor, and comfort it somehow brings hasn’t left me. I immediately found myself reverting back to my inner 11 year old self. Wanting to devour the entire batch, then finish off the meal with a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream, swirled until soupy, and slurped up through a straw.  While watching ‘Hey Dude.’


Homemade Hamburger Helper

Yield: Serves 8

Homemade Hamburger Helper


    Hamburger Helper:
  • 3 cups (24 oz) marinara sauce (storebought or homemade)
  • 1 batch easy alfredo sauce (recipe below)
  • 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes, with juices
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 lbs ground beef (I used extra lean)
  • 1 1/2 lbs penne noodles (I used whole wheat)
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • Garnish: parmesan cheese and julienned basil
  • Easy Alfredo Sauce:
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • Black pepper and salt to taste


To make the alfredo:

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan set over low heat. Add the cream to the butter as it melts. Stir occasionally (keeping the heat on low). Let it simmer for about 15 minutes. When it’s reduced slightly, add the parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper and stir. Set aside while you make the rest of the sauce. Stir the alfredo occasionally. Note: if the alfredo is WAY too thick for your liking, add some extra milk or cream (1 tbsp at a time) after it’s simmered and reduced.

To make the hamburger helper:

Brown the ground beef in a large skillet then drain the fat.

Add the garlic to the drained beef and cook for about 30 seconds. Then add the marinara and diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil. As soon as it starts to boil, turn down the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the alfredo sauce a few minutes before you add the noodles.

While the sauce is cooking, boil the pasta noodles.

Using a slotted spoon (or pasta scoop) spoon the noodles into the sauce pan.

On a low heat, mix the noddles and sauce for about 3 minutes. Note: if you sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time.

Serve immediately with parmesan cheese and julienned basil on the top.


I think leftover pasta has the most flavor because it gives the noodles time to actually absorb the sauce. So I actually prefer to make this dish a day ahead of time and just reheat it on the stove right before serving (or in a baking dish at 350 for around 20 minutes). The only minor problem that could arise is your noodles can break apart, and get slightly mushy. To solve that problem, I just drown it in cheese. Cheese solves all problems. Well, so does ice cream, but ice cream wouldn’t really GO with this?!?!