14 May, 2010

Kraft Spaghetti Classics: A Time Capsule of Crap

You know, it is really easy and fairly cheap to make a good spaghetti dinner.  There is plenty of decent and inexpensive pasta on the shelves of your local grocery store - chances are, even the store brand is made of 100% Durhum  wheat flour - and even if you haven't got time to make your own sauce you can get a bottle of Ragu for a couple of bucks.  (And yes, I occasionally use Ragu sauce.  Despite what some outdated websites might tell you, most Ragu sauces contain no HFCS and the ingredient list is pretty close to what I put in my homemade spaghetti sauce anyway.  Read labels.)  Anyway, the point is that a really authentic and delicious spaghetti dinner is so easy to make and so cheap to put on the table that I have to wonder why anyone would bother with Kraft Spaghetti Classics.  It takes more time to make than the real thing, and even a can of Chef Boyardee tastes better.

Actually, it was the very preposterousness of this stuff that made me buy it to begin with.  They might be calling it "Kraft Spaghetti Classics" today, but the product itself is actually the horrid "Kraft Spaghetti Dinner" from the 1950's with updated graphics on the box. 

This newspaper ad originally appeared in October 1958.
Everything about Kraft Spaghetti Classics is a throwback to the 1950's - a time in culinary history when Italian food was apparently still viewed as "ethnic" and "exotic."  Even the preparation instructions are unchanged:
  1. Bring water to a boil and add the spaghetti, cooking until tender (10 - 12 minutes.)
  2. Meanwhile, mix the Italian Spice Mix, a 6-ounce can of tomato paste, and two cans (12 ounces) of water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil on medium heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Drain the spaghetti and tip it onto a serving platter.  Top with the sauce, then sprinkle with the enclosed grated Parmesan cheese.
The spaghetti in the package is really low-grade.  Good pasta is made from 100% Durum semolina flour - a hard wheat flour that stands up well to boiling, and produces a firm yet tender pasta with a slight pale yellow tint.  Kraft's spaghetti is made from regular flour which leaches gluey starch into the cooking water.  It cooks up sticky, bland, and flaccid and the color is a rather unappealing greyish-white.  Although we monitored the cooking carefully, and pulled strands out to check doneness frequently, the pasta still came out soft and slippery.  Even giving it a rinse before serving didn't help.  The texture was just awful and the flavor was - not surprisingly - closer to boiled flour than to boiled pasta.

Adding two can-measures of water to a can of tomato paste makes for a mighty thin sauce, as Lynnafred noticed during the sauce prep.  As the sauce came up to a simmer, she added the Tangy Italian Spice Mix and stirred it in.  The sauce thickened in minutes - thanks to the modified food starch in the Spice Mix.

The resulting sauce is sharp-edged and very rough.  I could be charitable and call it "tangy," but the tang is a byproduct of the unsophisticated "dump in some powdered stuff" method of preparation.  Even the most basic supermarket sauce in a jar has a depth of flavor that comes from long simmering.  Kraft's "quicky" method with the limited flavorings in the Spice Mix results in a harshly underseasoned sauce which tastes exactly like what it is:  tomato paste and pixie dust.

The final ingredient pouch in the kit was the Kraft 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, and it's kind of sad that the cheese was the best component of the assembly.  For me, I suppose that's partly out of nostalgia; when I was growing up, my mom always had a container of Kraft Parmesan Cheese in the fridge (probably because it was inexpensive and easy to find back then, in the years before every supermarket had a huge WORLD OF CHEESE display by the deli counter.)  It's not my first choice for grated table cheese, but I confess that it is adequate.  In keeping with the spirit of our 1950's faux-Italian experience, we sprinkled the Parmesan cheese atop the spaghetti and dug in.

The presence of sauce and cheese did absolutely nothing to improve the taste or, especially, the texture of the pasta, which continued to be gummy and gluelike and thoroughly nasty, only twice as bad because it was topped with that awful sauce.  We actually had tons of leftovers that night - unusual for Spaghetti Night.

Kraft Spaghetti Classics?  Never, ever again.
.

22 comments:

Andrew Green said...

Spaghetti is, like, the only thing I will make from scratch....
And I miss those old mixes...even if they were horrible.

Christina said...

And no vacuum packed little meatballs? Why bother?
Funny how the Kraft Mac and Cheese "dinner" as survived the test of time but I'd never heard of the spaghetti dinner before your post.

cheezmaker said...

For obvious reasons, nothing in my house comes from "Kraft"......

If I do not have time to make my own sauce or defrost a tub from the freezer I use Barilla's Marinaria or Newman's. And you're correct- decent pasta is on sale almost all of the time so you can load up on various sizes and shapes!

And I'll bet even Zim would not eat those leftovers!


cheezmaker

Michele Hays said...

Ugh - this is what diners served in the wilds of southern Ohio where I grew up: almost put me off diners for life! I agree - many "convenience" foods are harder to make than the real thing.

Dennis K. said...

Hi Dave, so funny I was just talking to a friend about this. I don't recognize either box graphics, we used to purchase the 70's version (I just remember a red and white box) at the U.S. military commissary in Japan. Aside from Boyardee probably the first spaghetti I ever had. The sauce was pretty tart.

Anonymous said...

I actually happen to LOVE the Kraft Italian Style spaghetti..... I have been making it and eating it for over 40 years - and I still search high and low for it. Back in the day, I made it by the recipe - but it wasn't too long before I was using a can of WHOLE PEELED TOMATOES instead of the can of tomato paste. This adds a lot of texture and 'meatiness' to the meal and the real tomatoes adds to the 'tang' - I also almost always put the pasta that comes in the box to the side (I use it for other dishes later) and use whatever type of pasta I happen to be into that month. What I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE from the box is the seasoning packet. I personally think it is extremely tasty and if I could, I would just buy packets of the seasoning and then make all the rest my own (which is what I pretty much do). It definitely has that
comfort food feel to it, but I really do love the taste. I also sometimes add pepperoni, ground beef or sausage, depending on who is eating it and what we want. I do very often make my very own (from scratch) sauce, but at least once a month - I want my Kraft Italian!!! :)

Anonymous said...

Like the above poster I too have a love for this stuff and it's tricky to find aside from Amazon these days. Quick background - A friend was moving back home from college and gave me what food he had leftover. His mom had sent this odd Kraft product I'd never seen before and he never bothered with. I had no money so took whatever I could get. Fell in love with the odd, unique flavor of the sauce mix. While I still make my own pasta and sauce on a regular basis, I do get cravings for this. As mentioned the pasta is lame so usually disgard and use whatever I want. Add meatballs on occasion and it's even better.

While it's slightly more complicated to make than the jar and pasta stuff it was a welcome addition to my university diet. An entire meal was around $1 including the paste. Also the preparation complications confused and detered drunks from stealing it.

Anonymous said...

Love it and grew up on it. Of course everyone changes this a bit to taste. Wish kraft sold it on line

Anonymous said...

i love the Kraft spaghetti and will continue to go out of my way to get it.beats the bland stuff in the jars.

Anonymous said...

This stuff is awesome! Hardly, "a time capsule of crap."

Buy it from the jar if you want...if you want bland, tasteless, and boring!

Anonymous said...

Sorry Andrew, I love the taste of this way better than the jar and have to order it because it is so hard to find. Like the others, I would like to just buy the sauce packet, the spaghetti is gummy. I have never used two cans of water. I think the pasta in mac and cheese is just as bad, kids are what keeps that going. I make my own, not the orange variety.

Anonymous said...

Like most of the anons, I think this has far more complex taste than a bottled jar of sauce, and would buy the spice packs alone. Like most people, I add my own preferences; diced tomatoes instead of paste, more garlic and Italian spices, and let it simmer a while. I find the bottled sauces lack punch. But to each his own!

Anonymous said...

I find this easily at Dollar General Stores, for about $1.50. And it's great, much better than a jarred sauce, imho.

David Ogletree said...

I grew up on the Kraft Itilian Classic. I love it. I make my wife make it for me from time to time. It is by far the best sauce I have ever had. I have had sauce in many restaurants so it is not that I have just not had what you would consider good stuff. I don't think it makes me a bad judge of sauce it is just what i really like. It tastes very good. It is very tangy.

Marilyn said...

We love the Kraft Italian Classic but I do not make to package directions. I make my own meatballs and use the spices in the box to make the sauce. I use three 6oz cans tomato paste, 2 cans of water stir add packaged seasoning from boxes of spaghetti with Mrs Dash extra spicy about 2 teaspoons. I add this to my meatballs and simmer while the spaghetti is cooking(I only use about 1 1/2 boxes of the spaghetti. When done mix sauce, meatballs and spaghetti in pan. It is great

PegD said...

I also love the Kraft Spaghetti dinners. I made my own meatballs, added more spaghetti to what the box had. I think for me the packet of spice really added to it.

I let the meatballs simmer in the sauce. All six of my children loved it. I don't make as much now that its just my husband and me but I do make it.

lunasolara said...

It used to be that the directions said to use two cans of tomato sauce rather than the tomato paste. I never, ever use tomato paste and water like it says on the boxes now. Like many of the other commenters, I search high and low for the stuff. It's what I grew up eating. This is what spaghetti is supposed to taste like as far as I'm concerned. Of course, I always make it with ground beef as well. Brown the beef while the water starts to boil, drain it, add the tomato sauce and the seasonings and it is heaven.

Victoria said...

I like it as well. My mom made it for us when I was a child (many years ago). I discovered that Tone's Spicy Italian seasoning (Sam's Club) approximates the flavor of the seasoning. When I make my everyday bolognese today, I deglaze the skillet with red wine after browning the meat, and use Tone's in the sauce. My boys call it "killer pasta sauce" because it's so full flavored and the spice mix adds that "tang." Unfortunately Sam's is not carrying the spice now, and I'm struggling to duplicate the recipe.

Diane said...

I have tried other spaghetti sauces, and I find them too sweet, bland, or too hot (too much oregano). Along with the tangy taste, there is a bit of salt in the Kraft recipe that balances out the sweetness of the sauce and tomatoes.

Yes, it is nostalgia to some extent that I crave the flavor. Plus, it isn't available around the Washington, DC area.

I'm also one of those people who love Vernor's Ginger Soda, and I can't abide the taste of the ginger ales available. Luckily, Vernor's is available in cans at a premium price :-(, so at least I can satisfy one nostalgic craving.

Nikki Cupcake said...

this reminds me of my mother who passed a few years ago this was viewed as a speical treat in my house. as a teenager i was on a trip to maine where i found this at WALMART and picked up some and despite making our own sauce or using high end pasta sauce like rao's we still loved this. then a few years later walmart in the ny metro area started carrying it and still does. once and awhile i'll pick up some and my kids just eat it up

Amy D'Anthony said...

This is how my mom has done it for years. First off...throw away the nasty pasta that comes in this "kit." We use Barilla in my house. Brown 1 lb. of ground beef, some garlic, and add the seasoning packet. Stir in two 8oz cans of tomato sauce and 8 oz. of beer or water. Beer makes it better. Then slice up six Spanish olives with pimentos and stir into the sauce. Simmer for 20 min on low. Reminds me of home. Better the next day.

Donna said...

I have used this spaghetti since 1970 and it's my favorite--my family's as well. I throw away the pasta in the box, add browned lean ground beef and garlic to the sauce. I think I like it so much because it isn't sweet. Fresh grated Parmesan is better too. So, my grocery store quit carrying it (that's why I came to this site), I googled it and you can buy it on Amazon. Okay, so you have to buy a bunch of it, but it wii probably last forEVER! I do wish Kraft would just sell the spice packets alone--maybe I'll write a letter :-)