This recipe comes by its name honestly, because I first served it at our second Annual Holiday Open House. What happened was we held our first one when we were new to the building and we wanted to meet the neighbors and for them to meet us, our dog at the time, and some of our friends. It was a big success, so much so that the following year we had double the turnout. They took the term “open” in open house very seriously, but I didn’t mind, it was a lot of fun. The more the merrier.
These open houses traditionally kick off at 2 PM and last until the last person at the punchbowl leaves, which is usually around 11 PM. During the second one we were caught a little unprepared, it was still only about 8 PM or so, there were still malingerers whom I didn’t want to leave, and most of the party food had been depleted. We have a tri-partite chafing dish begging to be refillled but alas nothing to put in it. Inspiration struck, so I made this casserole which is fairly quick and easy, even for the host who has partaken generously from the holiday punchbowl.
1 box of penne*, 8 oz., because that’s what I had
1 lb. ground beef
1 jar of good pasta sauce. This might be the first time I rolled out a San Marzano product, I used their tomato/basil blend. The jars come in slightly varying sizes. so use a jar that’s either 24 or 26 oz. Whatever you use, this is about what you need.
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 hunk of mozzarella, about 1/2 lb. (8 oz.), shredded
Some grated parmesan cheese, and you don’t need a lot. Maybe 2 oz.
While chatting with a random guest or two, boil the penne.
(* If I had used macaroni noodles I would have been making a version of Hamburger Helper, and God do I wish I had).
Grate/shred your cheeses into two separate bowls. With any luck a guest will do this for you.
In a skillet cook the hamburger and the minced garlic on medium-high heat for about 6 minutes. With a spatula break it up so the hamburger cooks through. You do not need to send your guests home with botulism.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees, chatting away. Express sadness at your guest’s recent breakup, disguising as best you can the fact that you loathed the guy.
Drain the now-cooked pasta. Drain the now-cooked beef/garlic. Add the beef to the pasta in its pot. Add the San Marzano (or whatever sauce you’re using) and half the mozzarella. Stir this all around, commenting that Cleveland gets a bad rap, it’s not that terrible, although God knows you’d never live there.
Pour the mixture from the pasta pot into a non-stick-sprayed 13 X 9 baking dish. I used a glass one, and I think that’s the better option. I’ve been doing it this way for the subsequent half-dozen times I’ve made this. Over the penne/sauce combo sprinkle on the other half of the mozzarella and the parmesan, while learning for the first time that a college acquaintance has racked up four DUIs since graduation and is now in mandatory rehab. Feign surprise because although he was only an acquaintance he was always a little bit of a mess.
Elbow the chatty guest out of the way and tightly cover the baking dish and its contents in foil. Put it in the oven for about half an hour. Use the time to check on the hired bartender, who has been set upon by guests of both sexes because he is very beautiful and is from a foreign country; swing by the co-host to exchange updates; go back to the bar and ensure that the liquor is holding up; and make a final stop at the punchbowl to refresh yourself.
Take the Party-Time Casserole out of the oven, uncover it, and let it rest for a few minutes. Now two or three malingerers might gather around you, so distract and deflect by telling them about that one time you went camping. Move the casserole dish onto a towel placed next to the chafing dish and with your biggest spoon start filling it up. This casserole is kind of heavy so if using paper plates make sure anyone who’s having uses at least two. Then party on, dudes!