Brilliant like that

When you have a great deal of leftovers piled up in the fridge, the time has come to make a lasagna. Lasagna is brilliant like that, because it can be made out of most things, so long as a bit of cheese and tomato sauce jump in. The only trouble is when you don't even have lasagna noodles on hand.

Then it is a good night for baked spaghetti.

Baked spaghetti is not an elegant dish. It does not cry out to be photographed or served on a white porcelain dish. It is made for eating late at night, after a hockey game or perhaps a trip to the gym, sitting on the couch with a glass of red wine. It is especially good on nights when your hot water heater is broken, and though you could have chosen to shower at the gym you decided to come home and take a nice, long, luxurious bath. It is very helpful on an occasion like that.

Also, if you want to dress it up, it is something you could make from scratch. But then, you would probably opt for wide, lanky lasagna noodles if you did that. They're much, much simpler to make. And they make much less of a mess.

Last night, I am sorry to say I did not have the wherewith all to accomplish anything like that. What I did have, I am happy to report, was a pint of leftover tomato sauce (which, in turn, was made from a jar of crushed tomatoes I'd put up and a heap of leftover meatloaf from last week, though I'm not sure that's something I should admit) and a full tub of ricotta cheese from Narragansett Creamery, which just so happens to be some of the best stuff on earth.

Now you might think that's an exaggeration, but really, it's not. Not at all. In fact, it won some sort of World Cheese Championship, so a few other people think so too. It's also made in Rhode Island, where I picked it up along with some delicious soft, moldy white cheese and a bit of salty feta at the Providence winter market the other day. If you buy it online, you can get a whole sampler, which I highly recommend.

But the point is, when you have The World's Best Ricotta in your fridge, boiled spaghetti might seem like sort of a lame way to use it. Normally, I would agree, but when there is no warm tub to be had, throwing your ricotta into a pan of baked spaghetti is sometimes the only way out. And naturally once you try it, the ricotta is so good that you really don't regret the decision at all. (Until the next day, when you spot the jar of sun dried tomatoes in your fridge, and you reach for a loaf of bread and the ricotta, and poof! it's gone.) In fact, the baked spaghetti goes down so smooth and disappears so quickly, that you really don't have time to regret anything at all. Not even the fact that you still haven't showered.

And the next day things are even better, because when you awake in a hurry to get back to the gym for hot water, you have already made your lunch and the last bits of baked spaghetti and Award Winning Ricotta are already packed up for the office just like this:

And even though the weather is stuck in some sort of strange limbo between rain and snow, you know it is going to be a very good day.


This is less of a recipe and more of a guideline of sorts, as you can mix and match and throw just about any sort of cheese or tomato sauce in. I recommend using ricotta for the pasta and the layers, and grated cheddar on top, as it forms a thick, chewy sort of skin. So here goes:

to toss:

spaghetti, dry or fresh
grated, crumbled, or spreadable cheese such as mozzarella, feta, or ricotta (tossing cheese)
1 garlic clove, minced
olive oil

on top:

tomato sauce (preferably with meat)
kalamata olives, pitted
grated cheddar or mozzarella cheese

Bring pasta water to a boil; cook spaghetti as your prefer. In a large mixing bowl, combine salt, garlic, olive oil, and a little bit of the "tossing" cheese. Drain pasta and dump immediately into the bowl, tossing with tongs so as to melt cheese and coat the pasta with all the bowl's ingredients.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a Pyrex baking pan (the size will depend on how much pasta, cheese, sauce, etc. you have to work with) and spread half of pasta mixture evenly over the bottom. Layer remaining "tossing" cheese over top, along with kalamata olives and any other goodies you want to throw in. Spread remaining pasta mixture over this layer, then pour tomato sauce over top of everything.

If the tomato sauce you are using is meaty and dry, it's a good idea to pour a bit of tomato juice or chicken broth over the whole thing at this point, so it won't dry out as it bakes. Sprinkle grated cheese over top and bake 15 to 2o minutes, or until the top is bubbly and golden brown.


Diane Warren said...

This sounds a little like a spaghetti pie Kathy Duane used to make. Try putting it in a pie pan the next time and see how that works. Cut into wedges like a pie. Your recipe sounds yummy. I am loving this blog. I will send the link to my sister in Australia who loves to cook - and write.

Elspeth said...

Thank you Diane! I am so glad you are enjoying it. I like the idea of a round baked spaghetti—that sounds much more elegant. xo, elspeth


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