I have been cogitating over what to say about casseroles and, after a half a glass of red wine, I have come to this: Casseroles are a lot of damn work. And the recipients of the end product never appreciate this fact.
Casseroles are great on the back end. They yield multiple leftovers which, generally speaking, are better the next day. On the front end, though, they are time consuming and labor intensive. I don’t want to turn you off to baked spaghetti because it is truly yummy and the ONLY time I ever combine spaghetti or sauce with Cheddar cheese.
But here’s how the prep goes:
1. Haul out your biggest pot to make the sauce, chop up the veg, brown the ground chuck, add the rest of the ingredients, cook for about 30 minutes while watching the Ellen DeGeneres show and drinking a glass of wine. That’s about an hour total.
2. Haul out your widest pan to cook the pasta. If you don’t know Harold McGee’s revolutionary way to cook pasta, read it here. That’s maybe 15 minutes.
3. Assemble the casserole. And here’s the irritating part: CLEAN UP ALL THE POTS, SPOONS, KNIVES, CUTTING BOARDS AND OTHER EQUIPMENT YOU’VE USED. Am I yelling? Apparently, I am. Sadly, at this point, the Ellen show has ended and I must resort to watching four-year-old episodes of Paula Deen while washing, drying and putting away all the dirty stuff. It’s kind of hard watching Paula plow through a cake with two sticks of butter, hamburgers served on Krispy Kreme doughnuts and fried ice cream now that we all know she has diabetes. But I digress.
4. Serve casserole and try to bite your tongue when the kitchen help only has one pan to wash. It’s not their fault. They don’t even know that the rash from your dishpan hands started two hours ago.
That said, this is a great casserole for cold weather. By the way, it has come to my attention that I never offer up how many servings a recipe makes. I don’t want to make value judgments. You decide. That’s not on me.
8 ounces thin spaghetti
1 egg, beaten
2 ½ tablespoons butter
I recipe spaghetti sauce (recipe follows)
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
Cook pasta in heavily salted water in a large pan over medium high heat until the pasta is al dente. The water does not need to be boiling when you add the pasta. Just make sure you swirl it around with tongs to keep the strands separate as the water heats up.
Drain the pasta and combine it with the egg and butter in a bowl.
In a 2-quart casserole dish, layer the bottom with some of the sauce. Add half the spaghetti and a third of the cheese. Add another layer of the sauce, the rest of the spaghetti and another third of the cheese. Top with one more layer of sauce and the rest of the cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the cheese on top is beginning to brown.
2 pounds ground chuck
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup finely diced carrot
½ cup finely diced onion
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine
1 ½ tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste.
Brown the chuck in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat, adding the 2 teaspoons salt. About halfway through browning, add the carrot and onion. Continue cooking until the vegetables are soft and translucent, the grease has disappeared and the meat is liberally browned. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute.
Add the crushed tomatoes, red wine, oregano and paprika. Lower heat to medium low and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
Note: You will have some spaghetti sauce left over. It freezes beautiful for you to pull out on a busy weeknight.