My great granddad’s Chicago-style Italian baked spaghetti, beef-mushroom sauce layered with cheddar cheese and spaghetti and baked in a casserole dish.
Granddad’s Spaghetti, my favorite comfort food of all time. This is a baked spaghetti dish that my great grandfather made, and my grandmother and mom and aunts continued to make it and pass down the recipe. Kind of an interesting story behind the origins of this Italian baked spaghetti recipe.
My great grandparents lived on the northwest side of Chicago. That side of the family is German, not a drop of Italian blood. Granddad frequented an Italian restaurant somewhere in Chicago, and he wanted to know how to make their spaghetti and ravioli.
The owner wouldn’t give the recipes to Granddad, so he took him out for a drink with the sole purpose of getting him drunk. He succeeded and the restaurant owner spilled the beans and gave Granddad the recipes. I’m guessing this was the early 1900’s, before Prohibition anyway.
Everybody on my mom’s side of the family has made Granddad’s spaghetti. I make it Christmas day. Granddad got the recipe but Nana made it. My mom says Granddad was a good cook and he’d come barreling in the kitchen and kick everyone out, he was making pancakes. Mom remembers eating his pancakes with her best friend in the dining room, with tons of butter and syrup. And Granddad’s spaghetti for Sunday dinner.
The recipe my mom gave me is a little sketchy on the amounts, but it has been adapted so many times that you just know what to do. It calls for a little salt pork and once I couldn’t find any so I used pancetta, good, but not the same. It also is made with “beef stew meat” and I prefer beef chuck or boneless short ribs, much more tender and flavorful than lean stew meat.
The sauce also has mushrooms which my aunt leaves out because she doesn’t like them. Sorry, it’s not Granddad’s spaghetti without mushrooms. I make the sauce a day in advance, and then layer it the next day.
This Italian spaghetti calls for cheddar cheese and when I questioned the authenticity of that, my aunt and mom said yes, sharp cheddar. Really? From an Italian restaurant? Maybe, in the early 1900’s, who am I to question. As Nana used to say, it must be sharp cheddar cheese.
So there you have it, Italian baked spaghetti, granddad’s way via a drunk Italian restaurant owner. It’s delicious, a little different and one of our favorites. Hopefully my girls will learn how to make their great great grandfather’s spaghetti and keep passing it on. Best, Kelly
Italian Baked Spaghetti
- ¼ pound salt pork, chopped
- 1 pound beef stew meat, preferably well-marbled like beef chuck or beef short rib, cut in 1½-inch pieces (I actually used both because I had both leftover in the freezer)
- 3 large onions, chopped
- 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 (28-oz) cans and 1 (14-oz) can whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand ~ Strange amount, I know. They were drunk, remember?
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped ~ I used about a quarter of a green pepper as we're not fans
- 1 pound white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (to taste)
- 2 cups water
- 1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 2 pounds spaghetti
- Grated Romano cheese
- Make the sauce: one day ahead, if possible. Drizzle some olive oil in a large pot and heat over medium. Salt the beef and add to pot along with the chopped salt pork, and brown, about 10 minutes. Add onions, garlic and a generous pinch of salt, continue cooking until onions are softened, about another 10 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and juices, chopped green pepper, sliced mushrooms, Worcestershire, crushed red pepper, to taste, and 2 cups water. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover partially, and simmer 2 to 2½ hours or until meat is very tender. Cool and refrigerate overnight.
- Assemble the spaghetti: Bring sauce to room temp or reheat gently on stove. Cook 2 pounds spaghetti in boiling, salted water until al dente, 8 or 9 minutes. Drain. In a large baking pan, put a little sauce to coat the bottom entirely. Add a layer of pasta, ladle some sauce all over the top, sprinkle on half the shredded cheddar. Repeat with another layer of spaghetti, more sauce, the rest of the cheddar. Cover cheddar with remaining spaghetti. Ladle some more sauce over the top and then sprinkle with grated Romano cheese. So here's what you have, sauce, spaghetti, sauce, cheese, spaghetti, sauce, cheese, spaghetti, sauce, Romano.
- Cover with foil and bake in 350º oven for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15 minutes, until heated thoroughly and cheese is melted.
- Serve, passing more Romano and extra sauce if desired.