Friday, November 2, 2012

Baked Spaghetti

On Halloween, we were invited to a party in this really great neighborhood.  I'm talking about the kind of neighborhood where every house decorates their lawn and the folks set up tables to distribute treats to the little (and not-so-little) costumed characters.

You may think, "Yah, yah, every city has a neighborhood like that."  But, no, this is on a whole different level.  There's a house that has you vote for the best pumpkin to earn your candy (or red/white wine as the not-so-little treat), another house with a fog filled haunted maze built into the garage, a few houses with projector screens playing movies or music videos. That kind of neighborhood.

So what do you bring to a party like that?  With such high expectations, you don't want to be the family that brought a bucket of chicken.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but unless it is your family's secret blend of herbs and spices, you may want to step it up a little.

What about Baked Spaghetti?

I honestly don't like sauce mixed with my pasta.  I'm more of a carb purist and prefer that the sauce sit on the clean pasta with the option to scrape off any excess.  However, I do realize the nostalgia of a homemade baked spaghetti.

Here's the recipe, adapted from the link above, for a more potluck/party friendly version:

    1 package (16 ounces) pasta, non-spaghetti
    1 pound ground beef
    1 medium onion, chopped
    1 jar Prego Garden Combo spaghetti sauce
    1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
    2 eggs
    1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    4 tablespoons butter, melted
    2 cups (16 ounces) 4% cottage cheese
    4 cups (16 ounces) part-skim mozzarella cheese, sliced

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in spaghetti sauce and seasoned salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, Parmesan cheese and butter. Drain spaghetti (do not rinse); add to egg mixture and toss to coat.
Place half of the pasta mixture in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Top with half of the cottage cheese, meat sauce and mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers.
Cover with foil.  If making ahead, place in refrigerator/freezer.  Otherwise, bake at 350° for 40 minutes. Uncover; bake 20-25 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

A couple things to note about the changes I made:
  • Why non-spaghetti?  Long spaghetti can be messy and difficult to eat while standing around at a party.  Using penne, sea shells, macaroni, or fusilli makes it easier to control portions and is easier to shovel reasonable amounts into your mouth in a social setting.
  • Why Prego Garden Blend?  Chances are there will be kids there, and pasta is a safe-food.  The kids in our family love pasta.  This sauce has more than the normal amount of vegetables, you can even see the chopped veggies through the bottle!  I can't get my kid to eat a salad, but I can disguise it in the pasta.  (I also put cauliflower puree into mac and cheese, hehe I'm evil like that)
  • Don't waste time grating mozzarella.  Just slice them up and layer it on there.  When it melts, it all becomes a puddle of cheesy deliciousness and all the hard work of grating and dish washing is for naught.
  • The option to make ahead.  I made this on Tuesday night because I was worried that I wouldn't have time to do all the prep after I got home from work on Wednesday.  Thank goodness for that!  Wednesday after lunch, a truck collided with the median on the freeway and traffic was backed up for HOURS.  My usual 25 minute commute home took me over an hour and half.  Since everything was ready to go, Ryan was able to preheat and throw everything into the oven and we could leave for the party as soon as I got home!

And, it's a hit!  It's so simple to make, but it's so palette friendly that kids and adults will enjoy it.

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