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. :)

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