Etta James passed away today. She was one of my favorite singers and her big hit "At Last", is probably one of the most romantic songs I have ever heard. I hear it and I am taken back to another time and another place, it's a transporting kind of song. I am sure that many people have had the same experience. I mean music in general has that kind of power. It takes one from the commonplace to the extraordinary in a few tones. It can be a reminder, a sirens song, an embracer, a celebrator, a divine uplifting power. Or it can just make you want to shake your booty!
Regardless of it's origin or type food like music has an almost immediate effect on us and on our senses. It too has transformative powers and it too can bring back memories of people places or things that we remember well and hold dear.
Etta James happens to remind me of Richmond Virginia. I was there in 2004 on tour with the national tour of Oliver! the musical and spent an incredible New Years Eve and New Years Day with some wonderful people I met there. "At Last" is one of those songs that takes me back to that time and place. And the food that I remember most from that trip to Richmond was an incredible baked spaghetti dish at a local haunt which was a favorite of the town.
The place, Joe's Inn and the dish was, Spaghetti a La Greek! Joe's Inn for those of you who have never been there is located in a very old building, in a very old part of Richmond called the Fan. The Fan is the historic district and is home to some of Richmond's oldest haunts and homes. it reveberates with history and has the feel of the old southern roots that gave it life.
Now Spaghetti a La Greek is special. I mean the folks I met in Richmond insisted that we go to this famous old Italian place and have the pasta there. So me, knowing the locals always know best, immediately went along for the ride, well they did have the car!
We found a parking spot down the block and went down the street. There in the darkness illuminated only by a red and white and sort of yellow neon sign was Joe's Inn. We entered and I found myself in a cozy tavern with wooden floors and walls covered with pictures and memories. To call it cozy was an understatement, this was the definition of old school quaint cozy eatery and bar. And it was packed! We got a table after waiting at the bar. We ordered house salad with dressing and garlic cheese bread to start. Wow it was all good. Then came the spaghetti. Now when I say that the portion was huge, I mean the portion was HUGE! It was the size of my head and not in a bad way! upon first inspection is was evident that they had mastered the art of the three cheese pasta with red sauce and meat. It was rich and red and salty from the feta cheese. It was an Italian masterpiece. Not in the oh my god I am going to take you to the most authentic food trip to Italy Mario Batalli sort of way. But in that, I have come from my roots and have been in the USA for generations making food here, the way I know that people want to eat it, sort of way. Simply put amazing!
Now I am not a huge pasta cook. Probably because I have Italian friends who are really great traditional pasta cooks here in NYC. But the pasta I do make, I make really well and it's usually pretty hearty and on the heavier side of things ( I make an mean Carbonara for example). So for that reason I love this dish. It's hearty, meaty, cheesy, and great guns good!
So over the years since eating the baked spaghetti at Joe's Inn I have tried to come up with the exact way they do things and finally decided that I could not. I mean first off, the true barrier to recreating any pasta dish from a restaurant is you don't have their red sauce recipe. And lets face it, the red sauce is what is the underliner for the taste of the dish. For this reason for example, I cannot ever get close to Spiritus Pizza's taste at home and have resigned myself to having to put up with the fact that I have to wait until my summer trip to Provincetown to have it! But I LOVE the sauce there! it makes the pizza.
So here's my take on this classic neighborhood favorite. Sorry Joe's if I don't have it exactly right but his one is pretty damn good!!! Enjoy Ya'll!
Baked Spaghetti a La Greek ( Inspired by Joe's Inn in Richmond Va.)
Ingredients makes 6 to 8 servings
1 box of spaghetti cooked al dente and held in oily cold water
3 cups of your favorite red sauce ( I will post mine one day soon)
1 pound ground beef
2 links fresh hot Italian sausage taken out of casings
1 onion finely diced
1 green pepper finely diced
1 tablespoons oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 cup feta cheese
1 cup romano cheese
1 cup cheddar cheese
6 provolone slices
1 can evaporated milk
In a pot:
Saute onions and peppers till soft
Add beef and sausage cook till browned
In another pot bring milk to almost boil add cheddar cheese and the romano
stir till creamy
In pot gently combine the red sauce the pasta and the cheese sauce stirring gently till pasta is coated
Then divided layer in 6 to 8 individual baking dishes.
When a dish is half full put 1 slice of provolone cheese then finish mounding noodle mixture on top.
Mound it up nicely, when done divide up the feta and dot the tops then blanket in the remaining slices of provolone.
Bake in 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 mins till cheese is melted and bubbling and heated through.
Garnish with some chopped parsley or chives serve with a salad and garlic bread and enjoy!!!!