I have very, very mixed feelings about casseroles.
I realize that as a native of the American South (doesn’t that sound fancier than just being a Southerner? 😉 ), casseroles are a staple of most home-cooked Southern cuisine. But, as a kid, my family went through a string of closely-timed tough times, and as Southern culture also dictates, one makes a casserole for the family in need. We had more spaghetti casseroles, chicken casseroles, and cheeseburger casseroles than we could eat. Literally. (My parents just recently moved out of our old house last year, and there might well have been a frozen cheeseburger casserole still in that freezer, and it might have finally been tossed out with the fridge itself. In the South, one does not say “no” to the gift of a casserole.) And so, as anyone else might have done, I got quite sick of eating casseroles.
This has continued into my adulthood as far as my not even owning a true, presentable casserole dish (one must have a presentable casserole dish if one is to present it to the neighbor in need, after all). I am a huge geek when it comes to all sorts of kitchen implements, tools, and utensils, regardless of utility. But a “good” casserole dish is not something I own. Since I don’t own one, I don’t make casseroles.
For the last couple of months I have been driving to and from Charlotte (almost a 2 hour drive, each way) every Sunday for work for my 2nd job. This means I typically have been getting home after 7 or so on Sunday evening, often to a depleted refrigerator. Cooking dinner, after working for three hours and driving for nearly four, is not something I have looked forward to on these Sundays.
Tonight was no exception. I hadn’t made my weekly trip to the supermarket, and didn’t have a lot to cook with. Picking up fast food wasn’t an option, since I needed to have something for lunch tomorrow. What I had a lot of was cheese (of various varieties) and pasta – two ingredients I can always enjoy. I also had some chicken & garlic sausage, of which I also used some earlier this week for some pizzas.
I’m not sure how the decision to make a baked pasta actually happened (see? I won’t even call it a casserole). But at some point I turned the oven on to preheat while I walked the dog, and then came back to the kitchen and put it all together: half-cooked the pasta, browned the sausage, tossed them together with cheese, olive oil, black pepper, red pepper flakes, fresh oregano and fresh basil, and dumped in the whole mess into a small baking dish.
What I ended up with was, surprisingly, very good.
I have to say, I know it’s weird, and I might be the only one who thinks this, but I really like crunchy baked pasta. There’s a pizza place here that does a baked spaghetti pizza, and it is one of my favorite things to eat not least because of the crunchy-pasta texture.
I enjoyed a chunk of the not-casserole with Sunday Night Football and a yummy beer, Great Lakes Brewery’s Oktoberfest. I had thought wine would be better, but I didn’t have any, and this turned out to complement the comfort-food taste of the pasta really well. Plus, I am a big Cleveland fan, and after my Brownies finally got a win today, it seemed appropriate to have a Cleveland-brewed beer.