Friday, May 18, 2007

Have you tried Mister Charlie?

I absolutely promise that my blog is not going to be all about casseroles. It's too bad that the word itself is a semi-bad one on blogs. I don't have all that many casserole recipes. Honest. But those of you old enough to remember the casserole era (that would be the 1960's and into the 70's for you young'ns) probably have many of your own of similar ilk as this one. I'm trying to give you some variety here on this blog, and I wouldn't have chosen this as a subject of a blog post except that this happened to have come out of the freezer the other night - literally it kept falling out of the freezer every time I opened the door. It was trying to tell me something, I finally concluded.

Some of you may know that way back in my deep, dark past, I was a Navy wife. My former husband was an air intelligence officer, and we lived in a variety of places (Florida, Washington, D.C., Whidbey Island, Washington and Denver, Colorado) over the years of his Navy service. During one of the early years I acquired a Navy Officer's Wives Cookbook, with hundreds and hundreds of recipes from other American Navy officer's wives from all over the globe. Actually there was a series of them (one of each of these: salads, desserts, casseroles & breads, meats, and one on international foods too). I still go to those cookbooks sometimes to get ideas about dishes to try, even though the plastic spiral bindings are nearly disintegrated on all of them. I was in my mid-20's then and new to the day-to-day cooking arena when these books went to press, so I didn't even think of submitting one of my recipes for any of the books. I'm not even sure I had any recipes I could call my own at that time.

As many of you probably remember, casseroles were a staple in every cook's repertoire. They were popular for family meals, and more elegant casseroles were very popular for guests too. They certainly were in mine, and they were inexpensive. In the 1960's my normal weekly food budget was $20, and that fed two people for 7 days, 3 meals a day. So, in the Meat cookbook of that era, amidst the little spots of food that spilled there is this recipe for Mister Charlie. Heaven knows why it's called Mister Charlie. Was Charlie the inspiration? Was he the cook and his wife submitted the recipe? Or, I like to think it's the dog's name, because he ate Suzie Q's portion when she dropped it on the floor? Do you ever ponder why recipes receive the names they do? I've asked myself this question about this dish for many years. Undoubtedly I'll never know the story. I even did a Google search for the title to just see if there was anything official out there for a pasta casserole called Mister Charlie. Nope. Over the years I've adapted the recipe some (I use Italian sausage rather than ground beef) and I've added mushrooms and cheddar cheese to it. So maybe I should call it Missus Carolyn? What do you think?

Well, then. There isn't anything startling in this casserole - pasta, meat, mushrooms, a variety of cheeses and a tomato-based sauce. That's it. But in combo, they make a very tasty dish. Casseroles sometimes don't look very appealing. Does the photo convey a little bit of the 1965-ish boredom of the tops of many such casseroles? What it does have going for it is that it makes a LOT. It can be made ahead. It's high in carbs (sigh). But all-in-all, it's still a keeper. Most of all, it's American comfort food. So, enjoy Mister Charlie, wherever he is. Woof.

Mister Charlie
Serving Size : 12 Preparation Time :0:45

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage
1 whole onion -- minced
2 cloves garlic -- minced
12 ounces tomato paste
8 ounces fresh mushrooms -- sliced
24 ounces water
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning -- or oregano, basil, thyme combination
1 pound cottage cheese
1/2 pound cheddar cheese -- grated
1/2 pound Mozzarella cheese -- grated and sliced both
1 pound pasta -- your choice of type (penne rigate, macaroni)
1/2 cup parsley -- chopped

1. Heat large skillet, adding olive oil. Add diced onion and cook while preparing other ingredients. Add the Italian sausage (mashed into small pieces) and continue cooking until all the pink is gone.
2. Add the garlic, herbs and mushrooms, then add the tomato paste and water. Cook for about 15 minutes until well blended. Taste for seasoning (salt and pepper). Set aside to cool slightly. Preheat oven to 350°.
3. Meanwhile, cook pasta until it's just under-done. Drain.
4. Into a very large bowl add the pasta, cottage cheese, then add the slightly cooled meat mixture. Prepare the cheese - about 1/3 of it should be in thin slices, the remainder should be shredded. I freeze the big ball of mozzarella cheese for about 20 minutes to make it easier to grate. Pour into two 9 x 13 pans, or a combination of other types. Place cheese slices on top. Bake about 20 minutes until the cheese is bubbly.

Serving Ideas : You need nothing with this except a crispy green salad. Back in the day, I'd always make garlic bread, but it isn't really necessary.
NOTES : This makes a big gooey, mushy mixture, but as it bakes it firms up some. I actually prefer it when it's sat overnight before baking. Seems to solidify the flavors, I guess. You can alter the amount of water you add - the original recipe said to add 4-5 cans (from the tomato paste) of water. I usually add about 4 cans, which should be 24 ounces. You can also add canned, drained tomatoes to this. Ricotta can be substituted for the cottage cheese too. Originally this recipe called for ground beef, but I like the flavor of the sausage better.
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 561 Calories; 33g Fat (52.3% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 83mg Cholesterol; 995mg Sodium. Exchanges: 2 Grain(Starch); 3 Lean Meat; 1 1/2 Vegetable; 4 1/2 Fat.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm looking for a recipe that was in my mother's Navy Officer's Wives Cookbook that disappeared after her death. And if you know a way I can get a copy, please advise. If was blue. Not sure when it was published, but post WWII I'm guessing.

Cowboy Cookies! Can you help me?