Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Baked Spaghetti

Hello, everyone!  Welcome back, and happy Tuesday!  It seems like lately, I have been on quite the Italian kick!  I've done semolina pizza doughsemolina spaghettihomemade cheese tortellini, and chicken parmesan all in August alone!  What can I say?  I love Italian food, and I don't care who knows it.  Although, I don't think baked spaghetti is very authentic Italian, but it sure is tasty!
I actually had to make this twice, because the first time I tried to make it for this post, I thought I would use some fresh pasta.  I figured, if boxed, dried pasta was good in baked spaghetti, fresh pasta would be amazing!  
I was wrong.  It turned out to be very gummy, and reminded my husband and me of library paste.  Not good.  Although, if you sprinkle enough cheese on something, it's still edible.  
I knew I couldn't post that!  I knew I had to try it again, with the boxed pasta.  It might sound like I have something against boxed pasta, and I really don't!  I usually have a box (or two!) of spaghetti, among several other variations from orzo, to rigatoni in my pantry!  It's great for a quick lunch or supper!
This is no exception, so lets dig right in!
Here's your grocery list for this one:
1 Tbs Kosher salt
Nonstick spray
Spaghetti sauce, homemade or store bought
1 box of spaghetti (I used angle hair)
8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese, at least
Pepperonis (optional)
Crusty bread (optional)

Okay, we're going to start off with some very fascinating pictures of boiling water!  It doesn't get much more exciting than that, does it?  I don't think so!
However, get a large pot of water up to a rolling boil, and put in the entire box of pasta.  While you're waiting on the water to boil, go on and preheat your oven to 400*.  Make sure to stir the pasta in, once the water is boiling. so that all of the pasta is under the water.  I like to use one of the largest pots I have in my kitchen when I cook up an entire box of pasta; the more water you have, the less the chances of a boil over!  I like to add in 1 Tbs of Kosher salt to my pasta water (once it is boiling); this is the one chance you get to flavor the pasta as it cooks, and you can really tell a difference between a noodle that was cooked in salted water vs. unsalted water.  I also don't like to add any oil to my pasta water, as some do; I find that it coats the pasta, and makes the sauce not want to stick to it.
Of course, if you grew up putting oil in your water, or if you just plain like to put oil in your water, please continue on!  I just personally don't care to.

Let your pasta cook for one to two minutes less than the package directions.  My box said to cook for 4-5 minutes; I took my pasta out after 3 minutes.  This is going to cook again in the oven, for 40 minutes, so I'd go on the slightly undercooked than overcooked side of things!  While you're waiting the couple of minutes for your pasta to cook, go on and generously spray a 9"x13" baking dish with some nonstick spray!  Don't forget the sides!

I love homemade spaghetti sauce....so easy to make, and very quick to throw together!  Anyway, once your pasta has finished, I like to scoop it out with a spaghetti scooper thing; not sure what it's called.  This way, I can save the pasta water, in case I need to add a little bit of extra liquid to my baked spaghetti before it goes into the oven.  

So, I saved the water that the pasta cooked in; it will look cloudy from the starch that was released while the pasta cooked!  This is great to use if your spaghetti sauce gets too thick while you're cooking/heating it; just add in a little bit of the pasta water (the starch in the water will help the sauce to stick to the pasta later) - this goes for any time I make pasta, not just for this dish.  Anyway, I scoop out the pasta, and move it to a colander to hang out while I layer up the noodles with the sauce.

So, I add a layer of the pasta, and a layer of spaghetti sauce.  If you want to be extra crazy, add in a layer of mozzarella cheese.  I didn't do it this time around, because I was (gasp!) almost out of mozzarella, and I needed to use what I had on hand to layer on the top.  Also, if you want to, use some pepperoni between the layers of noodles and spaghetti sauce.  Again, not authentic, but it is yummy!  As Sheldon Cooper (from The Big Bang Theory) would say, "Get yourself ready for a real I-talian treat!"
Anyway, here I have the noodles and sauce layered up.  In my alternate universe, I would have noodles, sauce, cheese, pepperoni, noodles, sauce, cheese...you get the idea.  Keep adding the layers until your dish is filled up, and you are finishing with the sauce being the top layer.

Once you have your top layer of sauce put on, smother that baby with shredded mozzarella.  I normally use Sargento shredded cheese, because it melts just beautifully, and I did this time, too, however it melted oddly for me.  It didn't melt together into a beautiful cheesy gooy topping; instead it looks like the cheese just melted into the still individual shreds.  Still tasted good, but it wasn't the stringy melted cheesy goodness I wanted.  Oh well.  They can't all be winners, huh?  Anyway, bake this at 400*, uncovered, for 40 minutes, or until your cheese is (hopefully!  Ha!) golden brown and bubbly!  
Let it rest for about 20 minutes on the counter; don't worry, it will still be pipping hot!  This just allows the sauce to cool a bit and thicken up!  Then, garnish with some more mozzarella cheese if you want, or some Parmesan cheese!