Spaghetti Bake

Posted on Apr 6 2011 - 6:14am by RetroRuth

The Day Before Cookbook001

Welcome to another fun episode of the Mid-Century Menu. This week we picked a recipe from The Day Before Cookbook, which was published in 1968. We picked this recipe because, well, it looked pretty weird.

Not to say the whole book was weird. The cookbook is based on a good premise.  Cook your dinner party the day before and have more time to spend with your guests when they arrive. Sounds like a good plan, right?

It is.  If the food is good. But, since this is the MCMenu, the chances of the food actually being good are slim to none.

On the positive side, the cookbook has detailed directions for every recipe and I like how all the cooking equipment you will need is listed in the end of the recipe. But there are a few things that are a little fishy about the book right off the bat. The first is the blurb on the front flap, which tells the story about how the author made a fool out of herself at one of her dinner parties by talking smack about a cookbook that was written by the sister of one of her guests.  Somehow, that was what caused her to write this cookbook. I never quiet understood how those two things came together to be a coherent story.

Another thing is the number of recipes in this book that use alcohol.  There were over 40 that I counted while I was just flipping through the book. And not just a little bit of alcohol, either, but cups of it. I am not sure if that differs from a normal cookbook significantly, but that may explain the little “story” on the front flap pretty well.

Oh, and then there was this recipe.


The Day Before Cookbook002

Yeah, that’s right. 5 cups of water. 5!!!! I know the spaghetti is uncooked, but come on.  I think someone was drinking a little too much of the cooking sherry when they came up with this one.




Artistically photographed recipe! (Which doesn’t make the recipe any better, but at least it looks pretty.)





You know, slighty off topic, for some odd, indefinable reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, making this recipe reminded me about how much I hate overcooked pasta.


My loathing of gooey pasta started young.

I remember when I was a kid, I used to love Kraft Mac & Cheese Dinner. (Don’t hate, okay? It is what it is.)


And Mom would make it for me, but I always had to watch her like a hawk because she would let it the macaroni cook for the recommended time on the box. Which was great except for the fact that the amount of time recommended on the box was clearly too much cooking time. 


I mean, really. 7-10 minutes??  You have to be joking. If you leave it that long it gets all gluey. You have to drain the noodles at exactly 5 mins, otherwise when you add them back to the pot to mix it with the cheese sauce the noodles are too mushy. And then you get a broken apart and nasty mess instead of a neon-orange bowl of deliciousness.

By the way, this is what happens when you add 5 cups of water to a sauce.

You get soup.


So, I normally apply the Kraft Mac & Cheese principle to most directions (this translates to checking noodles for done-ness two or three minutes before directions say too), but this casserole bypassed my principle entirely with a clever ploy that involved not cooking the noodles at all. Therefore ensuring that they will NEVER be soggy and mushy. 

Right? Right?



This was also a new ploy. Adding a sauce so runny that ladling it was actually a waste of energy.


Dumping it was much more effective.


First layer of pasta, sucessfully ruined.


This part is where I turned to Tom and said, “I don’t care how much uncooked pasta is in here.  This is waaaaaay too much water.”

And he replied, “That smells really good. Can’t we just bake it now and eat it tonight?”

And I said, “This is never going to work.”

See how well we listen to each other?

But, sadly, Tom didn’t get to eat it that night. We have to follow the directions, here.  It’s the MCMenu rules.


So it spent the night nestled in the fridge with Tom roaming around, opening the fridge door every few hours to stare at it while he complained about the leftovers we had for dinner.


The next day the pasta had soaked up a lot of the water, but there was still enough around it to make it look runny.


It’s trip to the oven didn’t get rid of the water, either.  But at least it came out looking good.

And it smelled good. At this point, Tom’s excitement was at fever pitch. I was actually starting to think I might be wrong, and this might work after all.


And here it is plated.

At this point, things took a turn.  

By now, most of you guys will have noticed that 1) The spaghetti doesn’t look right, 2) It is still really watery (I served it with a slotted spoon), and 3) The spaghetti doesn’t look right AT ALL.

But Tom wasn’t scared.  He was excited.  All he could think about was how good it smelled the day before.  So he dug in without hesitation.

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Tom mugging for the camera, because it tasted awful.


Tom’s actual expression of disgust and disappointment, because it really did taste awful.

The Verdict: Gross. I was right to be worried about the amount of water in the sauce.  Because it didn’t work. At. All. The spaghetti noodles became a soggy mess that basically just dissolved in your mouth.  It was disgusting.  I couldn’t even choke down my plateful. On top of that, the resulting dish was still watery.  So pretty much a disaster all around.  Tom ate his portion, ate some of the meat out of the HUGE casserole dish full of this stuff, and after that it was pretty much over. 

This dish has the distinction of being one of few Mid-Century Menus that were not eaten as leftovers! The rest of it hit the trash!

But at least you learned the right way to make Kraft Dinner. Only 5 minutes for the Mac & Cheese noodles! I’m serious, here!

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I love everything retro, vintage, mid-century, kitsch and all things atomic! A 21st century housewife just trying to fit the 50's. I have a passion for vintage recipes and an enormous vintage cookbook collection that I keep testing, even though by now I should know better. Creator of Mid-Century Menu (, No Pattern Required (, and I Ate The 80's (

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20 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Mod Betty / April 6, 2011 at 8:35 am - Reply

    Oh I was so hoping it was going to turn out good! I wonder how folks back in the day thought it tasted – gross or “exotic”?

    Thanks for taking the fall for all of us, and making the dish! RetroRoadhusband thanks you as well – so I won’t be tempted to make this for us!

    • RetroRuth April 6, 2011 at 11:12 am - Reply

      Mod Betty – I was hoping it would turn out well, myself! We were so sad! No problem, we are happy to take the fall for you. 🙂

      Not sure how folks would have reacted back then. I dunno, maybe the noodles back then were sturdier or chewier or something and this is just one of those recipes that doesn’t work because of the lack of similar available ingredients…or maybe the guests would have been horrified because it was gross and never gone back to her house!

  2. Brie April 6, 2011 at 11:51 am - Reply

    dude, I made kraft mac n cheese last night and I always cook less than the box says because there is nothing worse than GLUEY MAC N CHEESE! Well maybe that casserole…eesh.

    • RetroRuth April 6, 2011 at 1:49 pm - Reply

      Darn right, Brie!!!

  3. Erica April 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Maybe “5 cups wine” instead of water so the guests get so drunk eating they won’t notice it’s horrid?

    (I think people just really didn’t know what good pasta was supposed to be like back in the day. Heck, Italian food in general used to be considered pretty exotic!)

  4. Amy April 6, 2011 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    oh what a bummer – it actually sounded good.

  5. Andrea April 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    OK, I admit I am a chronic pasta overcooker (mostly because I start doing something else and forget how long I was cooking it for), but yeah, you were brave to even cook it, as there was no way this pasta could turn out good! Five cups?!?! Eeek!

  6. Sara In AZ April 6, 2011 at 5:25 pm - Reply

    Oh no, forget the wine and the water – add 5 cups of vodka! That will make it all better Ruth, promise! 🙂

  7. Eartha Kitsch April 7, 2011 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    I just *knew* that it was going to be amazing! It sure looks good in the pictures. I don’t know why the original recipe creator didn’t just make that sauce and put it with some cooked spaghetti. Was this created in a town where cooking spaghetti is illegal? I mean, I understand the whole “day before” concept but it kind of leaves a wild card the next day when the guests arrive! 🙂

  8. Jenny (VintageSugarcube) April 12, 2011 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    You two crack me up! I sooo love following your weekly retro shenanigans in the kitchen. I think that spaghetti looks deeelicious. But I grew up eating a lot of baked spaghetti with cheddar on top and always loved it!! XOXO

    • RetroRuth April 13, 2011 at 10:54 am - Reply

      Jenny! I knew you would love it! 🙂

  9. Meeem April 13, 2011 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    So now everyone knows you took over the cooking at our house when you were 10???

  10. Joe September 20, 2011 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    Ahhhhhhh – baked spaghetti!

    A friend’s mother used to make baked spaghetti for her family in the 1960s, and would invite me over for a filling meal. While I never watched her make this dish, I’m guessing that she boiled her pasta before assembling the dish, which would cut out the massive amount of water in the dish. All of the ingredients listed above were used in her dish – the bacon, the onions, the cheese – and her meal was delicious. Of course, being a child of the 1960s, I have always enjoyed gloppy casseroles. I don’t know what that says about my taste in food! I do know that I am going to try this recipe, with a few tweaks, of course, and hope for a culinary romp down memory lane!

    • RetroRuth September 21, 2011 at 9:14 am - Reply

      Hi Joe!
      Yeah, I think that boiling the spaghetti before hand would really save this dish. The sauce portion of it smelled GREAT, so it was a huge letdown when it was so mushy!!!

      • Joe July 21, 2014 at 6:03 pm - Reply

        OK…I finally got around to making retro baked spaghetti. My friend’s mom, mentioned in my post above, passed away a couple of weeks ago, at the age of 96. Using the posted recipe as a base, and incorporating what I “seem” to recall from when I asked her about her recipe (she was one of those ‘a little of this and a little of that’ cooks, telling me “you’ll know when it is right”), I came up with a super close copy of the dish that I remember from many years ago.

        First, I soft fried one pound of bacon (remember, this was from the days when heart healthy cooking was practically unknown), tearing it to bits when cooled.

        One large onion, sautéed.

        The above mentioned four cans of tomato sauce.

        One can of condensed tomato soup – with NO extra water.

        The above mentioned amount of salt.

        One pound of spaghetti, broken, and cooked al dente and then drained. (I don’t know why it mattered that the pasta was al dente – spaghetti in most homes in the 60s was cooked to mush.)

        Assemble dish according to directions, omitting ground beef, garlic, chili powder and all of that water.

        Bake according to the recipe.

        I nailed it! Just as I remembered from so many years ago. The tomato soup and bacon is what adds the flavor that I recall.

        At plating time, the concoction held together fairly well, thanks to the use of no extra water – and the cheese acts as a binder. Reheated days later, as leftovers, I am sure that this will be even less damp.

        I don’t make a point out of making a public spectacle of myself, especially on the internet for the entire world to see. Still, I had to pass on the version of baked spaghetti that I recall from the 1960s.

        And, I want to thank you for posting the recipe that formed the basis for recreating memories of a time long gone.

        • RetroRuth July 22, 2014 at 4:21 pm - Reply

          Joe! Thanks so much for sharing! I am FOR SURE going to try out your recipe. It totally makes sense that leaving out the water would make it so much better. So happy I was able to inspire you to recreate a recipe from your past! 🙂

  11. S. S. May 4, 2014 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    Oh, man. The canary yellow rotary phone. I had one exactly like it in my bedroom in high school, which made my parents seriously regret that the previous owners put an extension to every room in the house. 😀
    That really does sound like it nearly was a really good spaghetti.

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