How to Make an Easy, Inexpensive Baked Spaghetti Casserole
If you need to bring a covered dish to a get-together or take dinner to someone--an elderly relative or friend, a bereaved family, a neighbor who has suffered a fall and has trouble cooking, maybe a family with a new baby--consider a baked spaghetti casserole. The casserole is easy to make, something most people like, and it's got all the key elements in one dish--spaghetti, red sauce, creamy sauce, and cheese. The meal is comforting and makes great leftovers. The recipe also calls for ingredients that are readily available and aren't especially expensive. I usually make the sauce with ground turkey, but either turkey or beef will work. You also can use Italian sausage, but drain it very, very, very well. If you want to save time, use jarred pasta sauce. I often make the red and white sauces in advance and refrigerate them. When I'm ready to assemble the casserole, I reheat the sauces in the microwave just until they are warm and add a few minutes to the cooking time, if necessary. The casserole is great served with a salad, garlic bread, and, if you need a simple dessert, brownies or ice cream. Enjoy!
Baked Spaghetti Casserole -- Serves 6
8 ounces of spaghetti noodles, cooked
1 tablespoon of canola oil
16-20 ounces of lean ground turkey or beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon of salt (plus extra, to taste)
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
14-16-ounce can of diced tomatoes with Italian herbs, garlic, and onions
1 teaspoon of dried Italian herbs
1 teaspoon of dried basil
1/2 cup of red wine or beef broth (or reconstituted "Better Than Bullion)
1-2 teaspoons of sugar (or to taste)
1 1/2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup of shredded Italian-style cheese or mozzarella
1/4 cup of butter
1/4 cup of flour
12-ounce can of evaporated milk
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
In a large chef's pan or pot, heat the oil to shimmering over medium-high heat. Crumble in the ground turkey and add the onion, salt, and pepper. Saute the turkey and onion for about 10 minutes until the turkey is mostly cooked and the onion has softened. Add the garlic and saute it with the turkey mixture for a minute or two. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, herbs, wine or broth, and sugar. Turn down the heat to a simmer, partially cover the pot, and let the sauce simmer for 15-20 minutes. Taste the sauce and add a little more salt, if necessary. Mix the sauce with the cooked spaghetti noodles and let them sit while you make the white sauce.
For the white sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook the flour/butter mixture for a minute or two. It will clump. Don't worry about it. Gradually whisk in the evaporated milk and keep cooking/gently whisking the mixture for about five minutes or until the mixture thickens. Remove the sauce from the heat an whisk in the Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and spritz a large casserole dish or aluminum foil grill pan with non-stick cooking spray. Pour half of the spaghetti/red sauce mixture into the prepared dish. Pour all of the white sauce over the spaghetti mixture. Sprinkle on one cup of the cheddar. Pour the remaining spaghetti mixture over the cheddar. Top the spaghetti with the remaining cheddar and the shredded Italian-style or mozzarella cheese. Bake the casserole for 20-30 minutes or until bubbly and the cheeses have melted. If you use an aluminum foil grill pan, make sure to put the pan on a baking sheet before baking the casserole to avoid the pan buckling when you try to remove it from the oven (not a good thing, trust me!).