My mother came by her talents in the kitchen naturally, from her own mother, my Grandma Sarah Doherty. Grandma Doherty and her sister Carrie owned a bakery in Detroit for many years. When I was a child, she lived with us 5 or 6 months of the year and did we love it! Her pies and pastries were out of this world and her homemade noodles could weaken you at the knees. I would come home for lunch from school (Ah yes, we went home for lunch back then!) and noodles would be hanging over open cabinet doors, drying on dishtowels. Mother would grab a batch, boil them briefly, dump them in a frying pan with butter and a little scallion and when they were nearly brown, she dropped in some swiss cheese just to add insult to injury.
We never knew what to expect from the kitchen when Grandma was there. The house always smelled like bread and pastry. However, I think my favorite treat was something called a Long John. Does anyone even make them anymore? Guess it doesn't matter, 'cause nobody could possibly make them as good as Grandma Doherty. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, Long Johns are a rectangular yeast-based donut and Grandma dolloped them with confectioner's icing. Right out of the fryer, words cannot begin to describe....
Mother, who cooked as well as HER mother, not only could do pies and pastries, but was creative as well. She was one of those home cooks who could taste something and go home and replicate it, nearly exactly. Wish I could do that!
One casserole in particular was a long time family favorite. We had it for supper off and on and Mother sent it with us for church suppers, school events and whenever we had to take food someplace. I don't make it much anymore but it was the first dish my middle son taught himself to make and he has been cooking it ever since he left home. Now it's one of HIS family's favorites. It's simple, it's vegetarian and I bet you have every single ingredient needed to make it in your pantry right this minute. There's no reason you can't add meat or just about anything else you like, but I still prefer it plain, simple and very cheesy. In fact, I think whole wheat spaghetti would taste delicious in this dish, so you could at least claim there was something healthy in it! My father used to look at it and ask "Is there something under the melted cheese?" I still like plenty of cheese, cooked until it's crunchy on the top and sides. And wait 'til you taste it warmed up for lunch the next day.
Mother's Spaghetti Casserole
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large can whole tomatoes, drained and cut up
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
1 pound box spaghetti (use just a little less)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup tomato paste (optional, I never use it)
salt and pepper to taste
Sauté the onion in the butter and olive oil. When nearly done, add the garlic so both are slightly caramelized. Set aside. Boil the spaghetti in salted water until al dente. Drain the spaghetti and add the onion mixture. Cut up the cheese and add half. Add the tomato ketchup and salt and pepper. If you are using tomato paste, add it here. I don't ever use it.
Pour into a casserole, top with the rest of the cheese and bake in a 375° oven for 35 minutes until brown and bubbly. Serves 4 big eaters with leftovers.