Jesse asked me to make baked spaghetti for our Friday evening get together with friends. Ok, that’s only partially true. Jesse has been asking me on a semi-regular basis to make baked spaghetti since we got married.
I’ve been beating around the bush trying to escape this task for years. The only baked spaghetti I ever knew were dried out noodles with sickeningly sweet Ragu that always arrived with the traditional potluck fair.
I called Julie and warned her Jesse had requested baked spaghetti. She tried to be kind, but I don’t think her experiences have been much better. I couldn’t imagine serving my poor friends a meal they dreaded. They deserved something they could at least choke down. So, I sucked it up and gave this recipe some thought and attention. The results were much better than I expected, and most certainly not as bad as my worst fears.
Or perhaps, everyone was just being polite and ate it anyway! Hey, it could happen.
Zesty Crockpot Marinara Sauce
This marinara cooks for about 10 hours, so it’s often easier to make this the day before you’ll be using it for baked spaghetti.
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes in rich puree
29 ounce can no sugar tomato sauce
6 ounce can tomato paste
1 cup water
1/2 cup good red wine
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed and finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 to 3 teaspoons sugar, to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 large bay leaf or two small
Stir the ingredients together in a large Crockpot. Cook on low for 10 to 12 hours, stirring occasionally.
Not Your Average Baked Spaghetti
You’ll need a big 10” x 15” baking dish for this recipe, if you don’t have one you can break it up into two smaller pans. For a vegetarian version, leave out the sausage and toss the spaghetti with the extra marinara sauce before layering it into the bottom.
4 cups Crockpot Marinara Sauce, made the day before
1 pound hot Italian sausage
1 pound spaghetti noodles, broken in half
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
32 ounce container whole milk ricotta
2 cups shredded Parmesan Reggiano, divided in half
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1. Brown the sausage in a skillet breaking it up well. Drain off the fat and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and get out a 10”x 15” baking dish.
2. Boil the spaghetti to al dente according to package directions in heavily salted water. Toward the end of cooking time reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Drain the spaghetti and toss with butter and olive oil. At this point you can also toss the spaghetti with the leftover sauce if preferred. Place the noodles in the baking dish.
3. In a bowl, mix the ricotta with the reserved pasta water. Place the sausage on top of the noodles and spread the ricotta over everything.
4. Top ricotta with 1 cup Parmesan Reggiano. Spread 4 cups of sauce over the cheese and top with mozzarella and the remaining Parmesan.
5. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until the cheese is golden brown and the sides are bubbly. Rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with the extra sauce if desired.
Recipes & photograph by Laura Flowers.