Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat and sauté the onions and celery until soft, 6 to 7 minutes. Set aside. In the same stockpot over medium heat, add the ground beef and cook, stirring to break up the meat, until evenly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Return the onions and celery to the pot and add the water chestnuts, mushrooms, tomato puree, and sugar; simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in the lemon juice. Stir in the cooked noodles and a third of the Cheddar cheese.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spoon the casserole mixture into a greased 3-quart baking dish or baking pan. Top with the remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, until bubbling, about 45 minutes. If needed, brown under the broiler for a few more minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
My wonderful friend Bunny Hoffman has been running an NFL football pool in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, for many years. About 100 people participate, from CEOs to teens. Winning the pool is obviously the objective, but the real goal for most is to avoid being in last place or on page 4. There is no place to hide, because Bunny and Susie Kopf publish the standings every week. At the end of the year, Bunny holds a party to announce the results. She often serves her amazing “José Casserole” which she got from a college friend. She’s not sure why it’s called José but, regardless, for many of us it’s a delicious consolation for those years we end up on page 4.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, washed and diced
1½ pounds ground beef
1 (8-ounce) can diced water chestnuts, drained
1 pound white button mushrooms, cleaned, sliced, and sautéed
1 (24-ounce) can tomato puree, preferably San Marzano
1 tablespoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
8 ounces dried egg noodles, preferably spirals, cooked according package directions