Like many Southern women of her generation, my mom was a big fan of casseroles.
One of our family favorites was Baked Spaghetti.
If you’ve never had Baked Spaghetti, you may well ask, “Why baked spaghetti? Why not just .. spaghetti?”
Well, for starters, it’s delicious – a cross between spaghetti and lasagna.
But, it’s much easier than lasagna – I was cooking this casserole on a regular basis before I was in my teens.
And, it’s much less messy than spaghetti – which, as much as I love it, has to be one of the messiest meals known to man, woman, or beast. Unless you’re Lady or Tramp, spaghetti is not what you want to eat on a first date. Or order at an important business luncheon. Or serve at a buffet or potluck style dinner where people will be eating whilst sitting on your couch.
Finally, it’s a great company casserole, one that gets you out of the kitchen and mingling with your guests. You can assemble the casserole in advance, refrigerate it, and then pop it into the oven when your guests arrive. No standing over a hot stove all by yourself while your hairdo wilts. And this casserole needs only the simplest of sides, all of which can also be prepared ahead of time – a green salad, a loaf of crusty garlic bread, fresh fruit for dessert.
Below is my veganized version. WARNING: This is based on our “company” recipe, which makes 8 large servings. With appetizers and sides, you could easily eke out a few more servings. So, if you are cooking for only one or two, you may want to halve this recipe and use an 11″ x 7″ casserole dish.
INGREDIENTS FOR VEGAN BAKED SPAGHETTI
For the casserole:
12 oz. Uncooked Spaghetti Noodles (or about 3/4 of a 16 oz. box)
1 Package Meatless Crumbles (usually about 12 – 14 oz.)
4 oz. can Sliced Mushrooms
2 – 24 oz. Jars High Quality Marinara Sauce
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper, to taste
1 Teaspoon – 1 Tablespoon Unrefined Sugar (optional)
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Soy or Almond Milk (optional)
Garlic and/or Onion Powder (optional)
Vegetable Oil or Nonstick Cooking Spray
For the Basil Ricotta Tofu Topping:
1 Package Firm or Extra Firm Tofu, drained and pressed
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2- 3 Garlic Cloves, chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper, or to taste
8 Fresh Basil Leaves
Directions for Basil Ricotta Topping:
Combine all ingredients in food processor and process until creamy. It doesn’t have to be absolutely smooth.
Directions for Vegan Baked Spaghetti:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly spray a 9″ x 13″ baking dish with cooking spray.
Break spaghetti noodles in half and boil in a large pot according to package directions. Be careful not to overcook – you want this pasta slightly al dente, or firm to the tooth. When pasta is done, drain well and spread the pasta in the baking dish.
While pasta is boiling, heat 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil in a skillet (or spray a nonstick skillet with cooking spray). Add the crumbles and cook until heated through and slightly browned. (I typically season the crumbles with a sprinkling of sea salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. I often add a pinch of garlic and/or onion powder as well – maybe 1/8 of a teaspoon of each. But taste the cooked crumbles first! Some brands already have quite a bit of garlic and onion seasoning.) Remove crumbles from heat when done.
In the same now-empty pot you boiled the pasta, warm the marinara sauce. Taste – some brands are very acidic! If the sauce is too tart for your liking, add 1/4 cup of unsweetened soy milk and the sugar, one teaspoon at a time. (Tip: Almost every brand of jarred sauce benefits from a small pinch of sugar!)
Add the crumbles and the sliced mushrooms to the marinara sauce. Stir well to mix.
Pour the marinara/mushroom/crumbles mixture over the spaghetti noodles in the casserole dish. If it seems to need mixing, just gently mix right in the casserole dish!
Now, take the basil ricotta tofu mixture and gently spread on top of the casserole with a spatula.
Cover the casserole dish with its lid (if your casserole dish has one) or aluminum foil.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove lid or foil. Continue baking for another 5 – 10 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Some of the noodles right around the edges may get a little crispy and crunchy. That’s fine.
Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes before serving. Remember, this casserole is not supposed to be as saucy as regular spaghetti! After the casserole cools slightly, you should be able to slice nice little squares.
Please do use fresh basil, not dried. It makes a world of difference in the taste!
If you have any extra fresh basil, try stirring in a few gently torn leaves after you finish with the food processor. I’m not sure it makes a difference in taste, but it makes the topping very attractive!