A Favorite Comfort Meal
Layer Hamburger Bake Casserole is one of my favorite recipes. I got this recipe from a popular women’s magazine in the mid-70s when I was a teen. I was staying with my aunt and uncle down in the southern California beach area one summer. She was looking through her magazines for something different to cook. As I helped her look through, I found Layer Hamburger Bake Casserole. I always loved casseroles. I read through this recipe and the photo was enticing. I told her it sounded good.
She and I made the casserole together. Everyone really liked it. We all had a slice of buttered bread with our meal and I still do that today with this casserole. I know, I can make rolls, but it would not be right, if you innerstand eating comfort meals. Getting a good photo was a task in itself. I tried to show the layers since the melted cheese hides what is underneath. laughing…
Layer Hamburger Bake Casserole
8 oz pasta, cooked & drained*
1 lb lean ground beef
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 (15 oz) lg tomato sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1/2 to 1 tsp pepper
salt to taste
10 oz Spinach, thawed & squeezed well of liquid
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tbsp milk
1 to 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded**
**Put the cheese into the refrigerator after shredding. It will not be used until the casserole is heated.
Well-butter a 12″ x 8″ baking dish or a good 2 to 2-1/2 quart baking dish. I find the larger better in size. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
*I normally start the water to boil for the pasta right now. Once I add the pasta to cook, I start on the rest of the casserole. I cannot use egg noodles and use fusilli, spiral or twisty noodles, the name for this pasta shape depends on your area. You can use whatever shape you prefer.
Remember to NOT rinse your pasta after draining!
Brown meat and onion in a skillet. When it is just about done, add the minced garlic. Once the meat is done, add the tomato sauce, salt to taste and pepper. I found a good sploosh of red wine, say about 1/4 cup, to the mixture adds more moisture and gives a great flavor to this layer of the casserole. Stir in the well-drained pasta.
Stir together the cream cheese and milk until smooth in texture. If you use organic cream cheese, you will need to use a beater to blend smooth. It is a firmer cream cheese. Then mix in the sour cream until well blended.
Assembling the Layer Hamburger Bake Casserole
In the baking dish, spoon half of the meat mixture into the dish, spread out evenly. I usually pat it evenishly on the bottom of the dish. Spread half of the cream cheese mixture over the meat mixture, using a spatula to cover the meat mixture evenly. Put the remaining cream cheese mixture into the refrigerator.
Evenly cover the cream cheese mixture with the spinach. Finish by covering the spinach with the remaining meat mixture, pressing evenly into the dish if wanted.
Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the casserole is bubbly. Remove the dish from the oven. Carefully spread the remaining cream cheese over the top of the hot casserole, spreading to the edges, being careful to not burn yourself on the baking dish. I usually do…
Sprinkle the cream cheese evenly with the cheddar cheese and return the casserole to the oven. Bake for another 10 minutes or more, until the cheese is melted.
Take the casserole out of the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes or so to cool before serving.
Note: The original 1970s recipe used only 1/2 of a cup of chopped onion, stirred into the cream cheese layer. It did not really cook the onions and I changed the recipe to cook the onions. You can try it that way if you prefer.
The original recipe also used a little less pasta to make only 3 cups cooked, and no salt. I slightly adjusted these amounts to suit my tastes. You could always add one 8 ounce tomato sauce more to the meat mixture if you use my pasta amounts instead of the wine.
The recipe also only used 1 cup of cheddar cheese sprinkled over the top. Uh, no. 2 cups is more our speed. Like most recipes, you can alter them to suit your tastes.
You will notice the casserole does not have any herbs to point the flavors to a regional flavor. This is considered a basic American casserole. As plain as it sounds, it is very good and it is slightly rich because of the cream cheese. Of course, you can add seasonings you would prefer. I like “plain” sometimes. I find them comforting.