Wait a second! It’s suddenly JanuaryPublished 7:19am Sunday, January 22, 2012
Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster
The strangest thing happened in Minnesota this week. It got cold in January.
I am one of those naïve souls who thought that after an unseasonably mild November and December we would go gently into an early spring and bypass winter altogether. When I woke up Wednesday morning and discovered it was negative 10 degrees outside, I shook my fist at Mother Nature and cursed her shenanigans. She’d lured me into such a tropical daze that I’d neglected to store nuts for the winter. I didn’t have one hot dish in the freezer ready to defrost and serve on an unexpectedly icy evening.
In Michigan we call them casseroles, but I didn’t think Pass the Casserole had much of a ring to it, so I named this column Pass the Hot Dish because of the feelings associated with the culture of a deeply satisfying, rich, smooth one dish meal.
When a friend has a baby we put a hot dish in her freezer and celebrate. When someone dies we place a hot dish on the kitchen table and weep. We bring them to potlucks, Christmas parties and every occasion in between. They are a vehicle for conversation and community. They warm us in every way.
That’s what I’ve tried to make this column: warm, conversational and satisfying as if we were sitting around a table with forks in our hands and laughter in our cheeks. This week, because it’s gotten so cold, I’m literally passing the hot dish. Below is my mother’s spaghetti casserole recipe. I wish I could tell you its source, but for all I know it could have come from Betty Crocker or Betty the next-door neighbor.
Mom’s recipes are a hurricane of index cards, scrap paper, labels peeled off cans, pages ripped from doctor’s office magazines and cookbooks whose spines haven’t been solid since 1962. With notes and doodles scratched in the margins, they’re like a time capsule of our lives between meals. This particular recipe is written on a piece of notebook paper. There’s a mysterious phone number written upside down at the top. On the side is a reminder that reads, “Meet Dick and Terry for breakfast before church,” and on the other side it looks like my nephew was practicing writing his name: JESSSSSE. Obviously he enjoyed forming the letter S or he fancied himself a snake. Judging by these clues and the ingredients in the casserole, I’d confidently place this recipe in 1983.
You can’t swing a stick around here without hitting a tater tot in a hot dish, but ours were mostly noodle based. If you’re really a purist, I suggest a side of tots. After all, at these temperatures there’s no such thing as too much starch. Think of it as fuel.
It’s also very good without the ham if you’re making it at Lent or for a vegetarian. All the dairy is full fat, and therefore full flavored. I wouldn’t make it any other way. I suppose you can lighten it up if you want to, but don’t blame me if it ends up tasting like paste. You can also use whole-wheat spaghetti, but I have no idea why you would.
Friends, I hope we can all slow down a little this winter and settle into a ritual of ease and contentment. One or two nights a week let’s assemble around the dinner table and connect with our loved ones. We’ll laugh, talk and, of course, pass the hot dish.
Mom’s Spaghetti Casserole
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
2 tablespoon butter
8 ounces spaghetti broken into thirds
3 cups cooked cubed ham
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 cup small curd cottage cheese
1 cup cooked green beans (the chopped frozen ones work well)
2 oz jar diced pimento, drained
1 teaspoon garlic salt
pepper to taste
Sauté green onion, celery and mushrooms in butter while your spaghetti cooks according to directions on the box. Combine pasta, vegetables and ham. Stir in one cup of the Monterey Jack cheese and remaining ingredients. Place everything in a greased 9 x 13 inch 3 quart baking dish and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Top with remaining ½ cup of cheese and bake an additional 10 minutes or until cheese appears golden.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.