Here in CT., this July has been lovely – mid-to high seventies most days and even on cloudy days little rain and few storms. I love a summer like this. Instead of longing for nothing but cold watermelon and salads, I find myself yearning for a spaghetti dish my mother often made on our farm in Brookfield, CT., when she knew an army of family and friends were planning to descend on us over a summer weekend, and she needed a dish that could be made ahead and would feed a crowd. She called her dish Spaghetti Caruso and it has been a hit from the first time she served it – all crusty, tomatoey and bubbling – until today, when I serve it to grandchildren who just happen to be passing by as it is coming out of the oven.
What you will need is a 9 x 9 pyrex dish or aluminum pan, plenty of real salted butter (you CANNOT make this dish using margerine because it will taste horrible), a pound of good imported spaghetti such as Decceco or DaVinci, 2 quarts of home made marinara or light tomato sauce, 4 or 5 cloves of fresh garlic, chopped fresh Italian parsley, a big bunch of fresh basil, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and a large container of freshly grated reggiano parmesan cheese.
After the pasta is cooked (13 to 15 minutes), it is layered in the pyrex dish along with sauce, pesto butter and grated cheese and then baked 30 to 45 minutes until it is crusty on the bottom, sides and top and the sauce is bubbling around the edges. It is usually served with a big salad of fresh leafy greens, sliced tomatoes and whatever else you like to put in a summer salad, and dressed with my home made cucumber dressing or with an Italian vinagrette.
This summertime dish is so popular with guests that we often have doubled and tripled it in order to provide the seconds that everyone clamors for.
1 lb spaghetti (Good imported pasta like Dececco or DaVinci), cooked and drained
2 sticks salted butter (I love Land O Lakes, or an organic butter)
2 to 4 tbsp freshly chopped Italian parsley
2 qts light tomato sauce or marinara sauce (See Recipe on Blog) (Do not use a jarred sauce-aaagh)
4 to 5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup of freshly grated reggiano parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Fresh basil sliced into thin ribbons – some for the sauce and some for assembling the dish.
Butter Pesto:(Note pictures above):Soften the butter (10 seconds in the microwave) and place in a medium bowl. Mash it up with a fork. Add the pressed garlic cloves and 2 tbsps of chopped fresh Italian parsley. Mash the garlic and parsley into the butter until it is well incorporated. Set it aside.
Pasta: Fill a large pasta pot with 6 to 8 quarts of cold water. Bring to a rolling boil on high heat. When water is boiling throw in a handful of sea salt and add the spaghetti to the boiling water. Stir the pasta occasionally so it doesn’t stick (NEVER put oil in the water. The pasta will not accept a sauce if you do) and cook for 13 to 15 minutes or until a strand of spaghetti tastes al dente. Pour the pasta and boiling water into a colander you have placed in your sink. Pour the drained pasta back into the pasta pot, throw in a few lumps of butter pesto and toss it around. Set the pasta aside.
Tomato Sauce: Place two quarts of tomato sauce in a large saucepan and heat it up until it is warm all the way through. Add in a nice bunch of sliced basil ribbons and stir them into the sauce along with some chopped parsley. Remove the container of grated parmesan cheese from the fridge and place it on the counter.
Assembling the Spaghetti Caruso: On your counter make sure the pasta pot, the saucepan with sauce, the butter pesto and grated cheese are all next to each other. Grease your pyrex dish on the bottom and sides with a lump of butter. Then ladle the bottom of the dish with a thin coat of tomato sauce. Using tongs, place a thin layer of spaghetti on the bottom of the dish. Cover with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Dot all over with pesto butter and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Cover with a thin layer of sauce. Repeat these layers until all the spaghetti and pesto butter is used up. End with a layer of spaghetti dotted with pesto and sprinkled with cheese and topped with ladle or two of sauce.
At this point you can cover the pyrex dish with foil and refrigerate it, or cover it with foil and bake it right away.
Bake the spaghetti caruso at 350°F for 30 minutes with the foil on. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes or so or until the top and sides are crusty and browned and the tomato sauce is bubbling around the edges. Lift out the casserole and place on a rack to cool. Let it rest for 15 to 30 minutes tented in foil.