Spaghetti and Meatball Casserole with Basil Cream

Today was the second time I made this casserole, and to be honest, I had forgotten how many steps there are. Don’t necessarily let that scare you off, though — if you don’t have cranky, clingy kids underfoot, the 25 minutes of “hands-on time” that Clean Living Magazine claims may be more accurate for you than it was for me. The steps are actually very similar to making a lasagna. In any case, it’s really good and definitely worth it — the basil cream sauce makes it memorable, and I keep trying to think of other uses for the delicious (and easy!) addition. (And, yes, this is the second time I’ve made a creamy basil-y sauce today.)

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 pound spaghetti noodles
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated, divided (I used more than twice this amount, family preference)
  • 1/3 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • 6 ounces extra-lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon wheat germ
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/4 cup finely diced onion
  • 2 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish with cooking spray; set aside. Cook spaghetti to al dente according to package directions. Drain pasta, rinse under cold water and drain again; set aside.
  2. In a food processor fitted with a chopping blade, add garlic and pulse until finely chopped. Add basil and pulse again until finely chopped. Add oil and half of Parmesan and pulse until well blended. Remove 1 tablespoon basil mixture and reserve in a medium bowl. Add cottage cheese to food processor and process until smooth and blended.
  3. Add beef, wheat germ, and milk to bowl with reserved basil mixture and mix gently until blended. Form mixture into rounded teaspoon-size meatballs (about 24 total). Heat a large heavy nonstick skillet over medium -high heat. Spray skillet with cooking spray and add meatballs and onion. Cook, turning occasionally, until meatballs are browned and onions are translucent, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and bay leaf to skillet, reduce heat to medium and simmer until meatballs are cooked through and sauce is beginning to thicken, about 8 minutes. Discard bay leaf.
  4. Spoon 1/4 cup tomato-meatball mixture into bottom of prepared casserole dish. Toss spaghetti with remaining tomato-meatball mixture and transfer half of spaghetti mixture to casserole dish. Dot tops of noodles in dish with half of basil mixture then cover with remaining spaghetti mixture. Dot top layer of noodles with remaining basil mixture and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Cover with foil and bake in oven until bubbling, about 10 minutes. Then remove foil and continue to cook until top is browned, about 10 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
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