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Baked Million Dollar Spaghetti Casserole

baked spaghetti casserole garnished with chives

I don't know if you have ever heard of Million Dollar Spaghetti, but let me tell you, you are going to want to make this baked spaghetti casserole as soon as possible for your fam.  Layers of noodles, creamy deliciousness and a thick, rich meat sauce smothered in cheese is pure, comforting heaven.  

What sets this version apart from the other versions out there?  The incredible meat sauce!  It has a rich depth of savory, umami flavor with just a touch of sweet warmth from the cinnamon and sugar.  I have made my pasta sauce and chili with cinnamon and sugar for as long as I can remember and it's always a huge hit.  Give this recipe a try and see if you aren't hooked!  (Note, if you don't have the mushroom/umami powder you can definitely still make this - it just gives in an extra oomph of umami!  Also, I like to sub a cup of mozzarella with a cup of white cheddar - but you definitely just use two cups of mozzarella or white cheddar - whatever you have on hand.)

A couple of tips:  

Always reserve some of the water the pasta boils in when you are making pasta sauce.  Just a little added to the sauce helps it stick to the noodles just perfectly!  

Grate your own cheese - if you have the time, always grate your own cheese instead of buying the stuff that is already grated.  The pre-grated usually has flour mixed in to stop the cheese from sticking together and it just doesn't melt as beautifully as cheese you grate yourself.  You can use the pre-grated stuff, but it won't be quite as melty on the top!

Ingredients:
  • 16 oz spaghetti noodles
  • 4 cups pasta sauce, divided (32 oz jar)
  • 8 oz ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1-1/2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 cup onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp mushroom powder, (umami powder)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter, (1 stick), sliced up and divided
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese

Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Spray a 13x9 pan with non-stick spray.  
  2. Place half the butter slices on the bottom of the pan.  (Reserve the other half of the butter slices.)
  3. In a separate mixing bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, cream cheese and sour cream until well combined.  Set aside.
  4. In a skillet, crumble the ground beef in to the pan, add the salt, pepper, onion powder, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes and mushroom powder.  Combine well and cook over medium high heat until it the beef is nicely browned and even starts to crisp just a little.  Add 3 cups sauce, sugar and cinnamon, and let simmer covered, on medium heat, for 5 minutes, stirring regularly, (but being careful because it will spit at you!)  Set aside.
  5. Bring a separate large pot of water to a boil.  Add 2 tsp salt, then the dry spaghetti noodles to the boiling water.  Cook for the time the package suggests for al dente minus 3 minutes.  (Mine says 11 minutes, I cook for 8.)  
  6. Before draining the pasta, set aside a mug of the pasta water - then drain the noodles, and return them to the original pot.  Add the remaining 1 cup of the pasta sauce and 1/4 cup of the pasta water to the cooked noodles and toss it all together.  
  7. Place half of the noodles in the bottom of the baking pan over the butter.  Drop the creamy mixture by spoonful's over the noodles and gently spread around using an offset spatula.  
  8. Place the other half of the spaghetti noodles over the creamy mixture.  
  9. Place the remaining butter slices on top of the noodles.  
  10. Stir 1/4 cup pasta water in to the ground beef sauce mixture.  Pour the mixture all over the top and spread around evenly.  Sprinkle with both types of cheese.
  11. Place the dish on the middle rack of the oven and let bake for 30 minutes at 350 so the casserole is heated through.  Place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes at the end just to get the cheese more bubbly if desired, then serve!
Serving Suggestion:  Serve with a simple salad and crusty bread!  This is a meal all in and of itself! 


spaghetti casserole in a teal bowl


spaghetti casserole smothered in cheese

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baked spaghetti casserole


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