Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Baked Spaghetti

I needed a meal that I could put together ahead of time, and then bake off before dinner. I also needed it to feed a crowd, so what's the solution? A casserole of course. A casserole can be anything that calls itself a casserole, such as: Broccoli, Ham and Cheese Casserole, Papa's Chicken Tortilla Casserole, But a casserole can also be things like lasagna and even spaghetti, if it's baked. That was my casserole of choice for this evening - Baked Spaghetti. It's basically a lasagna, but using spaghetti noodles instead. It's really good the night of, but is even better the next day for left-overs. (How often can you say that?) My mom-in-law liked it so much that I just made it last night for dinner at her house. It's a definite crowd pleaser!
   I don't have much time to chat today - I'm trying to blog between a fussy baby and a trying two year old. It's just one of those days.
So, here's how you do it:

There are 4 layers. A ricotta layer, a meat and sauce layer and noodle layer and a cheese layer.
I started with the ricotta layer.

2 cups of ricotta cheese and 1 egg go into a bowl.

Add 1/4 -1/2 tsp of salt (to taste)

1 Tbsp dry basil,

and whisk together to combine.

Next, chop a medium onion. Just cut the top off, and then split the onion down the middle, cutting through the root end.

Peel off the skin. Now you have two halves that won't fall apart when you start chopping them - the root end keeps all the layers together.

Just make vertical cuts towards the root end . . .

and then cut horizontally. Now you have little dices of onion. Easy Peasy.

Put the diced onion into a large skillet with about 1 Tbsp of olive oil. (I use EVOO)

When the onions start to get soft, add 1 pound of meat. This day I used ground turkey. Last night I used Italian sausage. Any ground meat will do. If I use something other than Italian Sausage, I like to add about 1 tsp of fennel seed, to get the same "sausage" flavor.
Mash it up with a Potato masher. This is something that I learned from watching Rachael Ray. It helps to break up the meat faster.

Just keep mashing until all the meat is broken down into small pieces.

While the meat and onions are cooking, cut up a bell pepper. This night I used a green one, but last night the inlaws had a bag of multicolored mini bell peppers, so I used a handful of orange yellow and red ones. You need about 3/4 cup of chopped pepper.

Just cut the pepper "cheeks" away from the seeds.

When all the "cheeks" are cut off, just throw away the seeds and cut the cheeks into strips.

Once they are cut into strips, you just need to pile them together . . .

and cut them into small dices.

In go the peppers with the meat and onions.

2 cloves of garlic (or more if you really like it)

Mince it,

and add it to the meat mixture.

Add 1/2 - 1 tsp tsp of seasoned salt (to taste).

When the meat is cooked, and the onions and peppers are soft the only thing left to do for the sauce layer is to open a jar or a can of spaghetti sauce. (Of course, if you have homemade that would be best, but this is what I used.) Any brand or flavor you like would work.

Just dump the entire contents of the jar or can into the pan with the meat.

Stir it together, bring to a bubble and that layer is done. Turn off the heat.

Two more layers to go. Get grating! You need some Parmesan cheese,

About 2/3 cup. 1/3 will go into the noddle layer. - Into a large mixing bowl goes 1 egg and 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.  The other 1/3 will be saved for later.

You also need 3-4 cups of Mozarella (depending on how cheesy you like you spaghetti). The cheese layer is all prepped.

The last, but most important layer is the spaghetti noodle layer. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it generously.

When it's at a rolling boil, add the noodles (a whole pound) and stir. Cook for 2 minutes shy of the cooking directions. (You want it a little under done because it will continue to cook in the oven.)

When the noodles are done, drian them, but reserve about 1/4 cup of the pasta water.

Cut 5 Tbsp of butter,

Put the butter into the hot pot that you just took the pasta out off, and let it melt with the residual (left over) heat. Add the noodles to the butter and toss to coat.

Add the hot water to the egg and Parmesan cheese mixture, while you whisk to bring the eggs up to temperature (so they don't scramble when the hot noodles go it).

Todd the noodles in the hot, buttered noodles to the egg mixture and toss to coat.

All the layers are done, just the layering is left. Preheat the oven to 375F if you haven't already and start layering. 1/2 the spaghetti goes down first.

Then 1/2 the ricotta mixture.

Spread it around to cover evenly.

Then 1/2 the meat sauce.

Then about 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella cheese.

Cover it completely.

Then repeat. Noodles,


Meat sauce and the rest of the cheese.

The Parmesan goes on now too.

Place onto a cookie sheet (in case there are any spills) and cover with foil. Make sure the foil it tented up in the middle, so that it doesn't rest on top of the cheese. Otherwise all of the cheese will stick to the foil and not stay on top of your casserole.

Bake covered for 30 minutes, and uncovered for another 10. It should be brown and bubbly.

Let it sit at least 10 minutes before cutting, so you will get nice slices.

Nothing left to do but eat. (Maybe with a salad to get in some greens.)
Here's the recipe:

Baked Spaghetti
1 pound dry spaghetti
1 jar or can of spaghetti sauce (about 24 ounces)
1 pound of ground meat
1 tsp fennel seed (if NOT using Italian Sausage for your meat)
1 large bell pepper diced (about 3/4 up diced)
1 medium onion diced
1 Tbsp olive oil (I use EVOO)
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1 Tbsp dry basil
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
5 Tbsp butter
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 cups Mozarella, shredded
1/4 cup hot pasta water (from cooking the spaghetti noodles)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Add the spaghetti and boil for 2 minutes shy of the recommended time on the box. While the spaghetti cooks, add the oil, diced onion, fennel seed (if using) diced pepper and ground meat to a large skillet. Break up the meat into small pieces and cook over medium heat until the meat is cooked and the onions and peppers are soft. Add the jar or can of spaghetti sauce, bring to a boil and take off the heat. When the spaghetti is done, drain it but save 1/4 cup of the hot cooking liquid. Put the butter in the hot pasta pot and let it boil. Add the pasta back in and toss to coat.
 In a large mixing bowl, wisk together 1 egg, 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Whisk while adding the 1/4 cup hot pasta water. Add the spaghetti noodles to the egg mixture and toss to coat.
In a buttered or greased 9x13 dish, layer 1/2 the noodles, then 1/2 the ricotta mixture, 1/2 the meat sauce and then 1/2 the Mozarella cheeese. Repeat the layers, and finish with 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Place onto a cookie sheet and cover the casserole with foil (making sure that the foil doesn't touch the top) @ 375F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes until bubbly and brown. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

OK now back to my fussy babies. :)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Broccoli Ham and Cheese Casserole

pin it

When trying to figure out what to make for dinner tonight, my mother-in-law Barb found this recipe for a casserole using broccoli, ham, cheese, rice and creamy soups. I changed a few things (of course) and this is what was for dinner tonight.  Barb did all the chopping and I did all the "real cooking" as my handsome man says (and my in-laws joke about).
It's pretty much a dump and stir casserole, with the exception of cooking the onions and broccoli first. You'd have to really try to mess this one up. It would be a great use for left-overs (and who doesn't need new ideas to use up left-overs?). It's a hearty, "stick to your ribs" meal that tastes wonderfully home-y and is a cinch to put together. It makes a lot, so be prepared.  You can separate it into smaller dishes and freeze some smaller casseroles to cook later, or just cook for a crowd.
  As always, if there is something in the recipe that is not your cup of tea, feel free to change it to your tastes. Cooking is about making people happy and creating not only good food but good memories. If you read this recipe and think" That would be good, but I don't like broccoli.  Or, I don't have any ham but I need to use up some chicken. Please - leave out the broccoli; exchange the ham for chicken. Experiment with your own additions and substitutions. Make it to your tastes. But I have to tell you, this recipe is really good the way it is. ;)

Here's how you do it:

Warm up 1 Tbsp of olive oil (EVOO if you have it) in a large skillet.

To the warm oil, add 1 medium onion, diced. (I used 2/3 of a large onion. Thanks Barb for chopping!)

While the onions cook, start opening some cans. 2 Creamy soups and 1 can of corn, drained.

They get emptied into a large mixing bowl,

along with 1 tsp granulated garlic,

1 tsp seasoned salt (we use Lawry's) and mix it all together.  Check on the onions.

When the onions are almost soft, add some broccoli florets - about 3 cups. Thanks again for chopping Barb! :)  Saute the onions and broccoli together over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until the broccoli is bright green and starting to get soft. (I like my veggies tender crisp, so if you like yours cooked more then just cook them more.)

While the broccoli and onions continue to cook, get back to the "sauce."  Add 1 Tbsp dry parsley.

1 cup of milk. (I was holding Baby Girl, and she wanted to help too. Just look past her adorable chubby baby hands.)

Mix and add some chopped ham,

2 cups of shredded cheese - cheddar or a mixture of whatever cheeses you like.

Mix again, and then add 3 cups of cooked rice,

and the broccoli and onion mixture.

Stir one last time until it's all well combined.

Spread it evenly into a 9x13 baking dish,

and start on the topping. Cover the top completely with Italian Style bread crumbs - about 1/2 cup.

And top the bread crumbs with the same amount of grated Parmesan cheese - about 1/2 cup.

Drizzle the top with a little EVOO (extra virgin olive oil, of course) to keep it moist and it's done.

It goes into a 375F oven for 30 minutes.

When 30 minutes have past, the casserole will be brown around the edges and bubbly.

Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. It doesn't slice like a lasagna would, but it does hold it's shape pretty well.

The beauty of a casserole is that it is an all in one dish. Protein, veggies, grain, and dairy all in one. No need for any side dishes - unless you want.

The topping is crunchy and toasty, and a nice contrast to the creamy rice. The sweet pop of the corn kernels off set the salty chew of the ham and the broccoli compliments it all. A very yummy dish if I do say so myself. :)
Here's the recipe:

Broccoli, Ham and Cheese Casserole

1 medium onion, diced
1 Tbsp oil (I use EVOO)
3 cups cooked rice
2 cups cooked ham, diced
3 cups small broccoli florets
1 (15 ounce) can corn kernels, drained 
cup milk
2 (10 3/4 ounce) cans creamy soup (we used cream of mushroom)
1 tsp seasoned salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
2 cups cheese shredded (cheddar, or whatever you like)
1/2 cup Italian Style breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Drizzle of EVOO - about 2 Tbsp
Preheat oven to 375F degrees. Cook onions in oil over a medium-low heat until almost soft.  Add broccoli florets and cook until bright green and tender crisp (soft, but still with a bite). In a large bowl mix the milk, soup, seasonings, corn, ham and cheddar cheese together until combined. Stir in the rice, broccoli and onions. Dump broccoli mixture into a large casserole dish and spread out evenly. Cover the top with the breadcrumbs. Cover the breadcrumbs with Parmesan cheese. Drizzle the top with a little EVOO and bake uncovered for 30 minutes.  Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.