Thursday, July 14, 2005

Secret Spaghetti Casserole

Last Thursday, Pukka emailed me to let me know that a co-worker's son had been in a bad accident and was in a hospital. My family's Italian, so pretty much my first reaction was: "We should take them some food."

I emailed mom right away for the recipe I had in mind. It was a staple at the potlucks and community dinners of my childhood -- a dish that's easy to prepare and that satisfies even most picky eaters. She sent it back straight away, and that night, even though I had previously declared it too hot to cook, I put together the casserole and put it in the freezer so that we could take it into work with us the next day.

When did I become a grown-up?

Ok, so maybe not so much of a grown up, because it took us a couple of days to actually remember to take it into work. But we did finally remember and Tuesday night, Pukka came home and told me that John said his family loved the casserole. I was glad I'd thought to include the recipe for them in case they ever wanted to make it again for themselves.

I grew up in a small town. My mother grew up in one even smaller. When my grandmother died, much of the town came to the visitation. (Heck, half the town was related.) After the services, my mother stopped by the office of the director of the funeral home to thank him for everything he'd done. They started talking, reminiscing about my grandmother. And during the course of that conversation he asked my mom for the recipe for this casserole.

Every funeral dinner he could remember, my grandma had brought this caserole, but she would never give him the recipe. Would my mom give it to him now?

Mom did, and in exchange she got a prized recipe of his wife's, under the condition that she never share it with anyone else in Marseilles.

When I first remembered that Grandma had kept the recipe secret, I felt a little strange that I had given it to John's family so freely. I never even thought about it -- growing up, every woman that cooked for me knew how to make it -- how could it be secret?

In reality, the recipe's a fairly unremarkable thing -- simple ingredients thrown together with minimal preparation. As I thought more about it though, I realized that the power in casseroles are not in the recipes, but in their service. Because when you make one (or anything else for that matter) and take it to someone who is sick or hurting or in need, they can hear things like, "I care enough about you to sustain you." or "I want you to have the time to attend to the things that are most important." And that is an unbelievably wonderful and powerful thing.

So below you'll find the recipe for this casserole exactly as my mom gave it to me. The formatting of it is a little strange, almost like a shopping list and recipe combined. If you're so inclined, next time someone you know needs a little help, you can make them some casserole. All I ask in return is that you offer up a prayer to the gods of your choosing that my grandmother will someday forgive me for this.

Spaghetti Casserole::
1 1/2 pound ground beef
1 onion
28 ounce cut up or diced tomatoes
15 ounce tomato sauce
4 ounces of mushrooms
8 ounces of spaghetti
12 ounces of mozzarella cheese
parmesan cheese

Brown the following:
1.5 # ground beef
1 c. chopped onion
1 clove garlic- minced or sliced
Drain and add the remaining and simmer for 20-25 minutes:
28 ounce can of diced tomatoes (or cut up)
15 ounce tomato sauce
4 ounces of mushrooms-drained
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
1 tsp basil
Cook 8 ounces of broken spaghetti, drain and mix into sauce. 
You will need to have 12 ounces of mozzarella cheese also.
Put have of sauce mixture into a greased 9x13 pan.  Top with half of cheese.  Then repeat.  Top with Parmesan cheese.  Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.