The first time I heard the words “ketchup” and “spaghetti” used together in a sentence, I was eating at an Italian restaurant in the North End with my girlfriend and her parents. Since her father is full-blooded Sicilian, we figured “Boston’s Little Italy” was an appropriate venue. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at eating pasta. I ate my bread too early, which made me too full to finish the leftover sauce.
“That’s okay,” her father chuckled. “At least you didn’t ask for spaghetti noodles and ketchup when they took your order.”
Wait, what? Even as a college student, I retained enough social, mental and intestinal decorum to use actual pasta sauce with my dorm-made spaghetti dinners. But ketchup as a spaghetti-sauce substitute? Who the f*ck even does that?
Turns out, many people do. Several websites and food blogs are rife with recipes and comments praising their merits. A Midwestern blogger notes that her family’s penchant for spaghetti ketchup stems from her grandmother, an old Missourian who grew up during the Great Depression. Which makes sense, as tomato ketchup sauces like Heinz were readily available and relatively inexpensive at the time.
But the Great Depression happened more than 80 years ago and bottled pasta sauce has been cheap and widely available in stores for at least a half-century, so why is this still a thing? Since today is National Spaghetti Day in the United States, I decided to subject myself to the culinary combination of spaghetti pasta and ketchup to find out whether it was any good. Besides, if Honey Boo Boo of Toddlers and Tiaras and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo fame can lose her sh*t over Mama June’s “sketti” recipe, why can’t I?
Before we get started, I want to tell you why the powers that be wanted to stop this unnatural experiment in its infancy. Seconds after walking into the grocery store, I noticed a broken jar on the floor. A red, unidentifiable sauce had splattered across the tile after the glass shattered, spreading chunky bits in all directions. No one paid it any mind except for me, since it looked like spaghetti sauce and my brain immediately interpreted it as a bad omen.
“You shouldn’t be doing this,” the voice inside my head whispered. “Ketchup on spaghetti? What the f*ck is wrong with you?” I thought as an unnatural wind blew past me in the aisle, the skies outside turned black, and the in-store Muzak transformed into a slow and spooky repetition of someone playing one note on an out-of-tune organ. As quickly as this peek inside the hell-sphere appeared it disappeared, but I would not be deterred. I had three ketchup spaghetti recipes to prepare and I didn’t want to let National Spaghetti Day down.
However, before I ever mixed the two main elements into their unholy compound, I wanted to subject myself to a control. For science, of course, but also because I wanted to make sure I could remember what real spaghetti tasted like. After boiling, draining and rinsing the noodles, I warmed a single serving of Victoria brand Tomato and Basil spaghetti sauce. It was the same sauce I’d sometimes catch my girlfriend eating straight out of the jar, so I knew it would be something good to start with.
It was fantastic. I even threw on a few Parmesan shavings for good measure. Unfortunately, the starter meal was too small and too quick, meaning that the next items on the list of things to try would all involve ketchup. With my roommate and his always-hungry dog, Vandal, waiting in the kitchen for the show to begin, I whipped up the first suspect.
Since the recipe said to “put on as much ketchup as you desire,” I squirted enough of the stuff out into a small plate of spaghetti until the center was covered. I then mixed it around to spread the “sauce,” exhaled, and took a big bite. If you’ve ever put ketchup in a bowl of macaroni and cheese, mixed it around and eaten it, you’ve essentially had ketchup spaghetti. Minus the cheese, of course.
The taste isn’t the same, but the texture is almost an exact match.
It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t as godawful as I thought it would be. I’d only eaten a single bite, and frankly wasn’t interested in eating a second, but that’s when my roommate made an observation. “Those noodles have been sitting out for a bit, so they’re probably cold,” he said. “What does it taste like warm?”
Without thinking, I put the plate in the microwave and warmed the initial ketchup spaghetti serving for 30 seconds. When the counter stopped, I removed the plate, mixed the noodles about and quickly took a bite. It was, without a doubt, the most putrid foodstuff I had ever put in my mouth.
While I was mid-gag, my roommate explained (through occasional, though deserved, laughter) that the sudden heat probably began evaporating the vinegar in the ketchup. If true, this meant that my nostrils and taste buds were exposed abruptly to the full force of the condiment’s more acidic aspects. It was horrible, and I immediately decided not to microwave anything else during the taste test. As well as maybe life.
Garlic Pasta with Ketchup and Feta
Simply combining ketchup with cooked spaghetti noodles was passable, so long as a microwave or other heat source wasn’t involved. But what would happen when this basic recipe was “spiced up” with additional ingredients? One detailed food blog’s instructions called for adding olive oil, minced garlic, feta cheese, and parsley to the mix for some variety.
It seemed nice enough, but it also required the ketchup to be cooked briefly in the pan with everything else. Cue the vinegary goodness.
- 8 ounces whole-grain pasta (preferably spaghetti)
- 3 tablespoons STAR Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4-cup Ketchup (Use more if you prefer it saucier)
- 1/3-cup crumbled feta cheese (You can use more or less, depending on your personal preference)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Since I wasn’t baking a cake, I decided to play it by ear with the listed ingredient’s amounts. (If that’s not how you cook, then more power to you, but I think it’s more fun this way.) So I eyeballed the olive oil, ketchup, and feta, but did use three garlic cloves. Otherwise, I nixed the parsley — mainly because I forgot to buy it.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
- Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box.
- Drain and rinse; set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and, stirring frequently, cook for 1 minute, or until lightly browned and fragrant.
- Using tongs, add pasta to the pan and toss and stir until well combined.
- Add ketchup and stir to combine; continue to cook for 1 minute, or until heated through.
- Remove from heat and divide evenly onto four dinner plates.
- Top pasta with crumbled feta cheese
and garnish with chopped fresh parsley.
- Serve immediately.
The spaghetti was ready so I skipped ahead to #4 and cooked the “garlic pasta with ketchup” per the blog’s instructions. The end result looked digestible, especially with the excessive amount of feta cheese I’d doused it with, but the smell of pan-fried ketchup was too potent to ignore. I pinched my nose, took a bite and immediately ran for the kitchen garbage can.
If you’ve never heard of, or eaten Mama June’s “sketti” then you
haven’t have lived a good, healthy life. This particular twist on the ketchup spaghetti dish originates from the first season of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, the TLC Toddlers and Tiaras spin-off that premiered in 2012.
Long story short, the reality television show centered on Honey Boo Boo, a child beauty-pageant contestant, and her family in rural Georgia. They ate a lot of crap, and Sketti was some of it.
The recipe has since become something of a cultural marvel, so when I initially began looking for recipe variations, sketti was one of the first hits to pop up on Google.
One of the links listed led to Fox News — because yes, Fox News has a recipes section on their website — which detailed the inner workings of “Honey Boo Boo’s Sketti” for anyone interested in making and eating the stuff.
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 3/4 cup butter or margarine
- Boil spaghetti according to packaging directions, or for about 20 minutes until it is soft.
- Mix butter and ketchup in a bowl and microwave until mixture is melted together.
- Pour over pasta and serve hot.
To see if the “sketti” is done, do as Mama June does: Throw it up on the wall and see if it sticks.
Quick question. Without looking it up, how much butter do you think is in a 3/4 cup serving? Give up? One and a half sticks. Yes, that’s right — one and a half goddamn sticks of butter. And that’s not even the worst part, because according to the Fox News recipe, all of that butter, ketchup, and spaghetti pasta is only meant for two servings.
I obviously value my life, so I cut the butter and ketchup down to 1/4 cups each and only performed instruction #2. No. 1 was unnecessary as I still had a colander filled with spaghetti waiting to be butchered, and my roommate wasn’t a big fan of #3. Vandal, however, was eager for me to try it out.
Not only did the final product look decent, but it tasted… familiar. That’s because, like the first batch made with Heinz ketchup, “sketti” reminded me of macaroni and cheese. Yet it wasn’t just the texture this time. Turns out, butter and ketchup cooked together in a pan tastes an awfully lot like Kraft Easy Mac, which doesn’t really use bona fide cheese. While I was immediately bothered by how similar these two otherwise vastly different dishes tasted, I shouldn’t have been that surprised.
Either way, it went into the trash — along with the remnants of the other ketchup spaghetti plates I was unable to finish. Vandal was disappointed, and if Honey Boo Boo knew, she probably would be too. Yet my roommate wasn’t, and my girlfriend (and, by extension, her family) applauded my use of the trash — even though I’m sure she’s still re-evaluating our relationship at the moment.
Happy National Spaghetti Day!