Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Baked Spaghetti Casserole

This is a Tricia Yearwood recipe that is making the rounds around the Internet and food blogs. If you have kids, they'll love it--just hold the "heat." It's quite friendly to "tweaks" and additions. I added a bit of crushed fennel (which I highly recommend) and red pepper flakes. Perfect! Mushrooms would be a great addition, too. Just think what you like on your pizza! In the summer, I'll be using fresh basil from the garden, for sure.

Be sure to use "thin spaghetti," which is not to be confused with angel hair. This is even better the next day. When I make it again, I will either prepare it the night before or in the morning and refrigerate it, covered, before baking to allow the flavors to mix.

Don't be put off by the "mushroom soup" topping. It's fine. What I find myself doing more and more is to buy a jar of prepared Alfredo Sauce and spread that on top instead of the soup. It's your call.

Serves 4-6
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef (about one cup)
  • 3 slices bacon, cut into pieces
  • 6 oz. thin spaghetti
  • 1/2 - 3/4  cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup chopped green pepper (about one whole pepper)
  • 1 tablespoon finely diced garlic, about two large cloves
  • 2 - 4 tablespoons sliced black olives, rinsed and drained
  • 2 1/2 - 3 cups diced, roasted tomatoes, juice and all (canned roasted tomatoes)
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasonings or oregano (I use the Italian seasonings)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon freshly crushed fennel seed
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste) 
  • 3/4  cup cream of mushroom soup mixed with 2 tablespoons pasta water
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Mozzarella, Cheddar or Italian blend cheese, divided
  • 1/4- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8 x 8 baking dish. Bring a large pan of salted water to boil.

In a large pan, fry bacon until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towel. Remove bacon fat and save. Add ground beef to pan and brown along with the red pepper flakes if using. Salt and pepper to taste. Discard fat and remove ground beef to a plate or bowl. (If using a cheaper cut of ground beef, add a bit more meat since most will be fat.)

Add bacon fat, less 1-3 teaspoons, to pan and add the onion and green pepper. Cook just until the onion begins to get a bit brown. Add the garlic and stir just until fragrant, less than a minute. Add the tomatoes, Italian seasonings, fennel. Mix. Now add the crumbled bacon and ground beef. Simmer for about 7-9 minutes. You want the flavors to blend and some of the liquid to evaporate to create a thick sauce but, if necessary, add a bit of liquid. Taste. Re-season as necessary.

It's important to always taste and re-season as you cook.

As meat mixture is simmering, add pasta to boiling water and cook less 2 minutes per instructions. Drain. Add back to hot pan. Stir to get rid of added water. Now add some of the bacon fat to prevent pasta from sticking and to add a bit more flavor.

Scatter about 3 tablespoons of sauce on the bottom of the greased dish. Place half of the spaghetti on top. Spread half of the sauce on top of pasta and sprinkle with one tablespoon of the black olives. Cover with half the grated cheese (not the Parmesan) and repeat the layering of pasta, sauce, olive, cheese.

Using a spoon, place dollops of the mushroom soup mixture or the Alfredo sauce over the top and, using the back of a large spoon, spread it out evenly. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the edges are boiling and the top is golden. Allow to cool a bit before cutting.

Fresh Parmesan is best. For the layered cheese in this particular
casserole, I used a combo of Mozzarella and Provolone. The original recipe called for all Cheddar which, to me, is more English thant Italian.

You know you want this!

Notes: If doubling recipe, use a 9 x 13 pan and 3, 14.5 oz. cans of tomatoes, being careful about increasing the red pepper flakes, fennel and garlic (can you ever not add enough garlic?????).

Leftover, refrigerated baked spaghetti slices up beautifully
and tastes even better the next day-- and it's not bad
with a dollop of sour cream, either!

NOTES: I now make this about every other week. I even have it for breakfast! I do the half recipe in an 8 x 8-inch dish. I first add about 1/4 teaspoon fennel and if not strong enough, add another 1/4 teaspoon. Because I love black olives, I add more than the called-for 2 tablespoons. I think they add a lot of flavor to this dish. I rarely use all cheddar cheese (which can be oily) and have settled on the Mozzarella and Provolone that I buy pre-shredded.

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