2016 kicked off with a fiery start in my neighborhood. It was so weird going around town yesterday, as if nothing happened – the grocery checker asked, “How was your New Year’s Eve? Were there a lot of fireworks in your neighborhood?” For some reason, I could not say, “the house next door to us burnt almost to the ground right in front of our eyes.” It just sounded so negative.
People put out of their house at this time of year – it was 26 on my patio this morning as I stared at the wreckage of my neighbors’ house over the fence.
Nothing like a hot meal to put life back in whack. Whenever I have some meat sauce left over from another meal, I like to make “spaghetti pie.” This is a meal you can make out of stuff you have around the house, as long as you have the right stuff around your house.
While I do enjoy making my own pasta, I always keep a supply of “box spaghetti” in the house. I also try to keep a bag of those individually wrapped mozzarella sticks – they’re small portions, you can just use as much as you need, and the rest are all wrapped up safe so they don’t go bad as fast. I put up a pile of pint size containers of tomato sauce last year, all waiting in the freezer, and my father-in-law just butchered earlier this year and supplied us with at least six months’ worth of ground beef.
The one ingredient I need for this pie that I don’t always have laying around is cottage cheese, and that’s just a bike ride to Safeway.
I got this recipe in the mail – remember when they used to send out recipe cards and try to get you to subscribe and pay for them? Wow, the internet changed our lives, didn’t it? You can probably find different versions of this, I have just been winging it for years.
Start with your meat (or marinara) sauce, if you make it yourself, or open a jar or can of store bought – you need about 20 oz of sauce, give or take. It needs to cover the entire pie, and sink down in there to plump the noodles all nice and juicy, but you don’t want it running over the sides of the pie pan. I make a good size pot, and I usually have a few spoonfuls left over to smear on bread.
The recipe calls for 6 oz of dry spaghetti. I’ll tell you a secret – I have a mail scale, and it measures small amounts of food really well. When I’ve tried to eyeball this amount I’ve come out with too much cooked spaghetti, so this last time I weighed out exactly six ounces, and this was one of the best pies I’ve made. It has to fit in a standard size pie pan, and if you have too much there’s no room for the filling.
You cook the spaghetti, then toss it with a couple tablespoons butter, a beaten egg, and about a third cup of grated parmesan. Then you dump it in your pie pan and mash it around with a fork or your fingers, press it into a pie crust shape, leave it aside. I also add a few strings of mozzarella, making sure they are spread around well, helps glue that crust into a solid mass.
Trying to move kind of fast so that everything else stays warm, you want to dump an 8 oz container of cottage cheese into the middle of your spaghetti crust and smash it down nice and flat. Now you cover the whole thing with your meat sauce, leaving just a few noodles sticking out around the edges – again, you want to cover and have plenty in there, without it boiling over in the oven.
This goes into a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes. It’s good to move fast while assembling so your pie is already warm when you put it in. After 25 minutes, take it out and add some mozzarella to the top, then return to the oven for another 5 minutes, until it looks the way you like it. I don’t add much, because I can’t eat too much mozzarella – some people put a virtual cheese lid on this pie.
Now, like Harvey Two-Face, this pie is of two minds. If you make it early and let it sit, at least an hour, you can slice it like pie, and put a neat, still steaming slab on each plate. If you dive right into this thing when it’s piping hot, you get a plate of about the best spaghetti with creamy meat sauce that you have ever had. My family enjoys the best of both worlds – when it’s hot, we eat half, trying not to take all the molten filling. Then I scrap all the filling back into it and smash it all back into a pie shape, wrap it and put it in the fridge. The next day, it is all congealed, the spaghetti has swollen all full of sauce, and it cuts like a real pie.
We can eat it cold or hot. While I prefer it warmed up, I must say, it’s a real trick getting it past my mouth and back into the oven at this point.