Friday, September 23, 2011

Time for Some Comfort Food

   Comfort food. We know what it is and how it tastes. When we are hurting or sad or just need a touch of home, we reach for it. Your comfort food might not be my comfort food, but both of our comfort foods have a common denominator: they are designed to make us feel better. One of these selfsame foods in our family is a very humble baked spaghetti. It is not difficult to make, and you will certainly will not find this recipe gracing the pages of any gourmet magazine, but that's not the intention. This is not elevated cuisine. It's not meant to impress. In the the South we call it down-home food. It takes you back to your roots or brings a touch of familarity and comfort to your palate.
   My momma introduced our clan to baked spaghetti, and I have been making it for my family on a regular basis and taking it to people who have had surgery or a death in the family or welcomed a new baby or just moved into the neighborhood. It never fails to elicit the same response. Nice. Delicious. Welcome. Familiar. Family friendly. If that's not the essence of comfort food, I don't know what is.
   Here goes this super easy dish:
          1 sweet onion, finely chopped
          2 Tbsp butter
          3 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
          1.5 pounds of lean ground beef
          salt and pepper to taste
          (basil and oregano may also be added according to taste)
          2 jars of chunky Ragu or similar tomato sauce (you can make your own if you prefer)
          1 small can tomato paste
          1 small can chopped black olives
          2 Tbsp brown sugar
          1 pound vermicelli
          4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
          (mushrooms are an optional addition)

In a large pan, saute the chopped onion until almost translucent; add garlic and continue sauteing for a minute or two. Add ground beef. Brown the beef thoroughly and drain off any excess fat. Salt and pepper to taste; add additional herbs if desired. After draining, add 2 jars of Ragu Chunky tomato sauce and the small can of tomato paste. Add up to 2-3 Tbsp of brown sugar and the small can of chopped black olives. Simmer while preparing pasta. Cook 1 pound of vermicelli al dente and drain well. In a large deep dish (the deeper the better) layer tiny amount of sauce to coat the bottom of the dish, then 1/2 of the pasta followed by 1/2 of the sauce and then 1/2 of the cheese. Repeat: pasta, sauce, cheese. May be frozen at this point or refrigerated for up to one day until ready to cook. Cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Deliver and wait for the phone call. A effusive thank you and a recipe request are a given with this dish. Easy. Delicious. Classic comfort food.

 image courtesy of Dexie Wharton
P. S. In our house, we eat this dish in "spaghetti sandwiches": white or whole wheat bread slathered with the ingredients of the casserole! No need for french bread in our home! Simply add a salad or fresh fruit and voila, you will have a happy family! 


1 comment :

  1. I saw your link over at Beauty and Bedlam and it made me smile. I always ate spaghetti sandwiches as a kid. Maybe I need to introduce them to my kids. Thanks for sharing.


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