dinner · italian · pasta

Adult Spaghetti-O’s

When I first saw this recipe on Bon Appetit, I knew I had to make it. I grew up loving Spaghetti-O’s; so much so, I would eat them cold and straight out of the can. I guess I may have been a weird little kid…

My only hesitation when making this recipe was the tomato sauce. I haven’t had a great track record with making my own tomato sauce—it usually comes out bland and too tomato-tasting. I’ve used all fresh ingredients before; fresh basil, fresh tomatoes—but still, it always comes out bland!


This recipe gave me a bit of hope when it comes to its tomato sauce, and using a Dutch oven really helps to enhance all the flavors of the meat & onion & garlic. Of course, you don’t have to use a Duth oven. You can always just use a large pot. As long as you cook the sauce in the same pot as the meatballs, that really helps develop the flavors of the sauce.

I also used brown sugar instead of white sugar to put in the sauce, and used one more tablespoon than what the recipe called for so you could really get that sweet-tomato taste out of each bite.


I changed up this recipe in other areas, too. I deglazed the pan with red wine and upped the spices in the meatballs. I thought adding cream to the meatballs was weird, but it made the meatballs little fluffy pillows of meat, and they tasted so amazing. It reminds you of those little processed meatballs found in canned spaghetti-O’s, but of course they taste SO MUCH better!


Adult Spaghetti-O's

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

This childhood favorite gets an adult-size makeover with homemade meatballs, sweet tomato sauce, and ditalini pasta.


  • 2 (28 oz.) cans whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup Italian-flavored bread crumbs
  • 1 TBS. coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 5 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 pound ground chuck (I used 20% fat blend)
  • 2 TBS. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 2 TBS. tomato paste
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 2 TBS. brown sugar
  • 2 TBS. dried basil
  • 1 lb. ditalini pasta


  1. Puree both cans of tomatoes until smooth (it’s okay if there are a few chunks left). Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, oregano, garlic powder,  1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper, 1/2 tsp. salt and pepper. Stir to combine well. Add the egg and cream and whisk well. Add beef and mix with your hands until just combined, being careful not to overwork or the meatballs will be dense. Using hands again, form meat into 1″ balls (I got about 20 meatballs out of the mix). Set meatballs on a plate while you work.
  3. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook meatballs, turning occasionally, until well-seared but not cooked through, about 4 minutes. Remove cooked meatballs to a plate.
  4. Scrape any brown or burned bits out of the Dutch oven but leave the drippings. Saute onion and garlic over medium heat until translucent. Pour in wine and continue cooking until wine is reduced by half, scraping the bottom of the pan as it cooks. Season mixture with salt and pepper, and then add tomato paste and paprika. Stir well until mixture turns brick red, about 1 minute. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, sugar, basil, and reserved tomato puree. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce is slightly reduced, about 20-25 minutes.
  5. Add meatballs to sauce, and spoon sauce over them. Continue cooking sauce and meatballs for 5-10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, cook ditalini pasta according to package directions, until pasta is al dente. Drain and pour pasta into sauce with the meatballs. Stir well to combine.

Step-By-Step Instructions


Puree tomatoes in a food processor until smooth. Set aside. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine breadcrumbs, parmesan, 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, oregano, garlic powder, 1/2 tsp. salt and pepper. Stir well to combine. Whisk in egg and cream, and continue whisking until well combined.


Add beef to the bowl and mix together with your hands until just combined, being careful not to overwork or the meatballs will be dense. Still using hands, form meat mixture into 1″ balls. Set meatballs on a plate while you continue working.


Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large Dutch oven. Add meatballs and cook, turning occasionally, until meatballs are seared well yet not fully cooked through. Remove meatballs to plate.


Add onion and garlic to meatball drippings and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Pour in wine to deglaze the pan, stirring any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Cook until wine is reduced by half, about 3-4 minutes.


Add tomato paste and paprika and continue cooking until brick red, about 1 minute. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, sugar, basil and reserved tomato puree. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until mixture is slightly reduced.


Add meatballs to tomato sauce and spoon sauce over meatballs. Continue to simmer for 5-10 minutes.


Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package instructions, until al dente. Drain and then pour pasta into sauce. Stir to combine.


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