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 Despite what some outdated websites might tell you, most Ragu sauces contain no HFCS and the ingredient list is pretty close to what I put in my homemade spaghetti sauce anyway.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:
- Bring water to a boil and add the spaghetti, cooking until tender (10 - 12 minutes.)
- 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.
- 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.