When you work a busy schedule, it is nice to have meals ready to toss in the oven to bake while unwinding.
But those meals don't have to be potluck casserole recipes or need a lot of preparation when what you really want to do is change into comfortable clothes, put on your slippers and settle in for the night.
This happens in my house a lot, so the husband and I are always looking for ways to make our lives easier. We both enjoy a big plate of spaghetti but opening a jar of commercial spaghetti sauce and pouring it over pasta gets boring after awhile. In addition, many restaurants are serving wonderful baked pasta dishes that are delicious, but going out to a restaurant after work doesn't give us time to enjoy the evening at home. By putting this dish together on a day off, it will be ready for baking when you are ready for a relaxing night at home.
Baked spaghetti is a great casserole to make ahead of time, so it’s ready on a busy day. Serve with a side salad and it’s a complete meal. This recipe makes enough to feed a family and still have leftovers for lunch the next day.
This recipe came about shortly after I commented to my husband that I was looking for a good way to make baked pasta. I was looking for something similar to what the restaurants serve. Although neither of us are of Italian decent, he has always been on a search to find the perfect pasta sauce recipe, sometimes browsing the Internet for something he would like to try. His search resulted in one particular recipe that appealed to him, so he spent an afternoon cooking and adjusting the ingredients until he liked what he created. When I told him of my search for baked pasta, he again went on a search for a good recipe but after finding several that looked promising, there was no one recipe that caught his attention. Finally he found one that had the pasta mixture he liked, but he still wasn't crazy about the sauce.
As a result, this recipe is the combination of his favorite sauce recipe and the baked pasta recipe with several changes. The end result was so good that we decided to keep it as one of our go-to dishes.
While we both enjoy cooking when we have the time, we also have different methods and tastes. Using his basic recipe, I made a few changes when I put together his baked spaghetti and I will likely make a few more the next time as well. No recipe is carved in stone and we often change things as we go.
1/2 lb. sweet Italian sausage
1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1 medium onion
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 large can tomato puree
1 large can crushed or diced tomatoes
2 Tbls. tomato paste
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. dried basil
1 Tbl. Worchestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 lb. spaghetti, cooked
2 Tbl. butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1 small container ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded (retain 1/2 cup for topping)
In a large saucepan or dutch oven, brown sausage and ground beef and remove from pan, retaining the drippings. In the drippings, sautee the onion and chopped garlic. Add the tomato puree, crush or diced tomatoes and tomato paste, oregano, basil, chili powder, Worchestershire sauce and salt and pepper. Cover and simmer slowly for two hours.
In a large stock pot, boil spaghetti until al dente. Drain spaghetti. In the same stock pot, melt the butter. Turn off the heat and add the spaghetti back to the pot. Add salt, parsley, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese and 1 1/2 cups of the mozzarella cheese to the spaghetti mixture and stir to combine.
In the bottom of a 9-by-13 baking dish, spread a thin layer of the sauce. Spread the spaghetti and cheese mixture in the dish and pour the rest of the sauce over the pasta and cheese mixture. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella on top.
Bake in a 350 degree oven about 35 minutes or until cheese on top begins to turn brown and bubbly.
In this recipe he prefers crushed tomatoes over diced because he is not a fan of chunks of tomato in his sauce. I like the tomatoes, however, and will probably add chopped mushrooms and perhaps a little crushed red pepper as well.
This dish reminds me of lasagna without the layers as the ingredients are similar. I also plan to try it with different types of pasta, such as penne or mostaccioli.
I recommend saving a little extra sauce to heat and spoon over the dish once it's baked. Leftovers are wonderful to pack up for lunch the next day or if you don't need a recipe this large, you can cut everything in half and use a smaller, square baking dish.
I have never frozen this dish, but have made it on a Sunday afternoon and refrigerated it until baking on Monday after work. Team it up with a tossed salad and crusty bread and this dish can easily become a comfort food for a cold winter evening.