As far as guilty pleasures go, a love of SpaghettiOs is pretty tame. Cranking open a can may have been acceptable for me as a 7-year-old back in 1989, but it's time to admit that what I really love are the soft O-shaped noodles swimming in a sweet tomato sauce. With this wholesome take on a childhood favorite, I know I won't be reaching for the can opener anytime soon.
Give Spaghetti Dinner a One-Pot Fix
My traditional spaghetti dinner takes two pots, one pan, and an embarrassing number of bowls and utensils. I'm channeling the ease of canned pasta by taking smart shortcuts, making simple substitutions, and cooking everything in just one pan. To make this easy weeknight dinner, substitute bulk mild Italian sausage for homemade meatballs. The herbs and spices are built in and they hold together just fine without the addition of eggs or breadcrumbs.
This homemade SpaghettiOs tomato sauce is smooth and slightly sweet, with a concentrated tomato flavor and no hint of a tinny aftertaste. With a tablespoon of tomato paste, a can of crushed tomatoes, and a little sugar, you will have a sauce that only tastes like it has been simmering all day. Add two to three cups of water or broth depending on how saucy you want your final dish to be.
Why We Like Pasta Os
Finally, the Os are the simplest part of this dish, as most well-stocked grocery stores will carry anelli or ditalini pasta alongside boxes of spaghetti noodles. The use of O-shaped pasta for a kid-friendly meal is actually pretty ingenious because the Os slide easily onto a fork or spoon (much more so than wriggly strands of spaghetti).
As a bonus, in less time than it takes me to make a batch of traditional spaghetti and meatballs, I can cook a double batch of these Os, layer it with shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and freeze for a night that is too hectic to do anything but pop a pan in the oven. This kid- and mom-friendly weeknight meal will having you singing "Uh oh, SpaghettiOs."
One-Pot Meatballs & Pasta Os
1 pound uncooked mild Italian sausage, casings removed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 to 3 cups water or low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
8 ounces dry O-shaped pasta (2 cups), also known as anelli or anelletti
For serving: Parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes
Divide the sausage into 32 (1/2-ounce) portions and roll each one into a tablespoon-sized meatball.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a 10-inch high-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and cook, turning occasionally, until browned all over, about 3 minutes per side. The meatballs might not be completely cooked at this point. Transfer to a plate.
Return the pan to medium-high heat and melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the onion, salt, and pepper, and cook, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the tomatoes, 2 cups of the water or broth, vinegar, sugar, and oregano. Stir in the pasta and meatballs, along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente and the meatballs are cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes, adding more water or broth as needed if you want a soupier consistency. Ladle into bowls and top with Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes, if desired.
- Make ahead: The meatballs can be formed and refrigerated up to 1 day in advance.
- Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.