Spaghetti pie comes as a tasty surprise

Spaghetti pie. BY JACK CLEMONS
January 20, 2014

A few weeks ago we were invited to dinner at the home of our friends Bob and Michelle. Their kitchen is designed in the style of a not-so-rustic open-beamed barn with a stone fireplace, lots of windows and every modern convenience. As we chatted over a glass of wine, we began to notice rich, spicy aromas filling the room. When asked what she was cooking, Michelle replied, “It’s from Giada, spaghetti pie.”

That would be Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis, known for her complex creations of Italian favorites. Unfamiliar with what to expect, we were surprised at the appearance of the dish, which resembled a chef’s toque with a puffy, golden pastry top.

As thick wedges were cut from the pie, fragrant ingredients spilled across the plates – flaky crust filled with tender chunks of eggplant, turkey sausage, angel hair pasta and creamy cheese in a thick tomato sauce – what a delicious combination.

Once we returned home, I found Giada’s instructions (see below) for a dish she called Baked Angel Hair with Eggplant. I also discovered there is a wide variety of other approaches to spaghetti pie, including several that omitted the puff pastry crust and used the pasta itself to form a shell for various fillings.

If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll begin by cooking pasta al dente; otherwise, you can use leftover cooked pasta. Most recipes call for spaghetti, but you can just as easily substitute corkscrews, shells or elbows. Once the pasta is drained, it’s mixed with egg, cheese and seasonings. This is spread into a baking dish (a large casserole or standard pie pan, depending on the volume of ingredients) and cooked for about one-half hour.

While your pasta crust bakes, you’ll have time to assemble the filling. The pie in the photo features savory turkey meatballs, chunky tomato sauce and a topping of shredded mozzarella. The biggest surprise is the texture of the pasta crust, which cooks into a dense, chewy-yet-soft outer layer.

This technique can also be used to make a pasta-crust pie that’s filled with a creamy ricotta cheese mixture, not unlike what’s layered between lasagna noodles. I’ve included a recipe that spices the cheese with slivers of sun-dried tomato and fresh basil; if these aren’t flavors you favor, you can always replace them with other seasonings.

Or, if all you have is some leftover pasta, cheese and eggs, you can skip the filling altogether and make a spaghetti version of hash browns to serve for breakfast or brunch. The recipe here includes snipped chives and aged cheddar cheese. If you’d prefer not to turn on the broiler, you can try flipping the pasta in the skillet, but I find it easier to let the oven do the work to brown the top.

As you can see, this is a dish with endless variations, from a pasta shell with or without a pastry crust to all sorts of toppings (or not) and your family’s favorite seasonings. These recipes outline the basics, but you can always insert more layers, such as crumbled ground beef or sautéed spinach, change the cheeses and manage the heat with garlic or red pepper flakes. No matter how you assemble your pasta pie, you can serve a tasty surprise.

Ricotta Pasta Pie

1/3 lb pasta
3 eggs
2/3 C Parmesan, divided
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 C chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 T chopped fresh basil
1 C ricotta cheese
1/2 C chunky tomato sauce
1/3 C shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat the inside of a pie pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions, until al dente. Drain pasta and cool slightly.

Once the pasta has cooled, combine with 2 beaten eggs, 1/3 C Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Press the pasta mixture evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake for 20 minutes. When pasta crust is done, whisk together 1 egg, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, ricotta and remaining 1/3 C Parmesan. Spread cheese mixture across pasta shell, cover with tomato sauce and top with mozzarella. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes.

Home Fried Pasta

6 oz pasta
1 T olive oil
3 eggs
1 C grated cheddar cheese
1/4 C Parmesan
1/3 C snipped chives
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper

Preheat broiler. Coat the inside of a 9-inch ovenproof skillet with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions, until al dente. Drain pasta and cool slightly. Once the pasta has cooled, toss in a large bowl with olive oil to coat. Whisk together eggs, cheese and seasonings; pour over pasta and stir until thoroughly combined. Spread pasta mixture evenly across the skillet and cook over medium heat until the bottom is golden, about 5 minutes.

Place the skillet under the broiler and cook until the top is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

Giada’s Baked Angel Hair with Eggplant

1/3 C olive oil & 1/4 C olive oil
2 lbs Japanese eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 T minced garlic
1 lb Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1/3 C dry red wine
3 C marinara sauce
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
8 oz angel hair pasta
1 lb mozzarella, diced
1 C grated Parmesan
1 pkg frozen puff pastry, thawed

Heat 1/3 C of oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add half of the eggplant and toss in the oil to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté the eggplant until it is golden and tender, about 10 minutes. Decrease heat to medium. Add half of the garlic and sauté until it is tender, about 2 minutes longer.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant mixture to a large bowl. Repeat with the remaining 1/4 C oil and remaining eggplant and garlic.

Add the sausage and wine to the same frying pan. Cook over medium-high heat until the wine evaporates and the sausage is brown, breaking the sausage into pieces with the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes. Add the sausage, marinara sauce, and red pepper to the eggplant mixture; toss to combine.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until pasta is still slightly crunchy and undercooked. Drain. Toss the angel hair with the eggplant mixture. Cool completely. Add the mozzarella and Parmesan and toss to combine.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Roll out 1 pastry sheet on a floured surface to a 13-inch square. Transfer to a 9-inch springform pan, allowing the excess pastry to hang over the rim. Spoon the pasta mixture into the pan. Place the second pastry sheet atop the pasta filling. Pinch the edges of the pastry sheets together to seal.

Trim the overhanging pastry edges to about 1 inch. Fold the pastry edges in to form a decorative border. Cut a slit in the center of the top pastry to allow the steam to escape. Bake until the pastry is brown and puffed on top, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Let stand for 20 minutes. Remove the pan sides and serve.