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.