Spaghetti O’s bring me back to a simpler time, when I was an innocent little girl, chubby, happy and hungry. My grandmom made sure her cupboard was stocked with several cans, and would heat them up on the stove for my cousins and I. The cute smiley face with pasta “O” eyes was always so inviting, maybe even more so than the cartoon pasta “O” that is featured on the can now. Inside, though, has always been the same deliciousness that some may call an “acquired taste.” Spaghetti O’s were my go to in high school, after practices or club meetings, and have certainly nourished my hunger and soul in college. Now though, as a “grown up,” I realize Spaghetti O’s probably aren’t the greatest lunch (or dinner) and certainly won’t feed my hunger.
Though I like to think I shed some baby fat over the past 20 years, and probably lost some innocence along the way, I will forever be happy and hungry. Every now and then I stare down the canned pasta at the grocery store, argue with my inner child, and keep walking. Lately, that inner child has been throwing a crazy temper tantrum, and I can’t help but give in.
Instead of buying this nostalgia-in-a-can, I knew someone, somewhere had a homemade version that I could try, with potential for a healthier meal: Oven Love to the rescue!
6 cups canned tomato sauce
3-4 cups water
2-3 teaspoons garlic powder (depending on how garlicky you like it)
1 lb bag anelletti (ring shaped pasta- you could use any small pasta- alphabet or stars would be fun!)
1-1 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (fresh shredded is best!)
1/4-1/2 cup milk
2 tbs butter
salt, to taste
1. Combine tomato sauce, water and garlic powder in a large pot. Bring to a boil.
2. When the tomato mixture is boiling, add the pasta to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently (the pasta is tiny, so it’s easy to stick to the bottom) for about 20 minutes, or until the pasta is soft.
3. Stir in cheese until melted. Add milk, butter and salt to taste. Taste it, check it out, see how you like the flavors. Then enjoy it!
This is the real deal, people. It looks, smells and tastes exactly like the store bought version! Now, I realize the cheese/butter/milk combo isn’t exactly healthy, but when you consider the control you have when you’re making the recipe, this is probably a better option than canned pasta. Plus…it’s so worth it.
I halved the recipe and had enough for a Sunday lunch for two, dinner for one, and lunch at my desk. My measurements tended to be on the lower side of what was suggested, and though the fresh-from-the-stove serving had the exact same consistency as the original, my leftovers had less sauce (which was still tasty). Also, I used Fiori pasta, which I thought would take longer to cook, but took less than 20 minutes.
Though I’ve eaten them thousands of times, and have clearly seen the label reads “a mild, delicious tomato and cheese sauce…” I could never taste the cheese in the original version. The sharp cheddar in Oven Love’s version shines through slightly, but offers a mellow counterpart to the sharp tomato taste. The noticeable cheese flavor could also be partly due to the fact that you get to stand over a hot bowl of tomato pasta and watch the shredded cheese melt and consume the pot.
Not only will I be making this again, I’ve also considered what additions could dress it up. Like the canned meatball and frankfurter options, I’m thinking of adding a protein. Crumbled bacon would probably be perfect.
This recipe lived up to my expectations, satisfied my craving for Spaghetti O’s and brought me back to a time when nutrition facts and ingredients didn’t matter. All that was missing was that cute smiley face with the pasta “O” eyes.