Grown-Up SpaghettiOs

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For New Years Eve, we had a few friends and their kids over for dinner and Spades. It had been a while since we were all together, and I thought good food and spirited competition would be fun. When I mentioned to everyone that we were having a Spades tournament, they were all in. We all played Spades in college, so we were good to go. The only stipulation was that no one wanted to be partners with their spouses. Each person I talked to had a the same yet different story of how Spades almost ruined their relationships. I have a few stories myself, the most recent being at a party for my oldest son’s classmate where my husband and I lost by 436 points and got stomp by a seventh grade girl and her partner. I don’t like playing Spades with my husband, because he brings me bad juju. We always lose when we play together. We cherish our happy home, and that last Spades game was a wake-up call that we should NEVER EVER play Spades as partners again. NEVER EVER.

Everyone was cool partnering up with someone else, and it was fun watching the adults pass their Spades knowledge down to the next generation. My kids are pretty good Spades players, which will serve them well when they go to college and possibly save their lives. There is nothing worse than playing Spades with someone who doesn’t know how to play the game. They ask too many questions, they cut your high card when they’re your partner, and—God forbid—they renege.  A player who reneges is lower than a snake’s belly button, and he/she will live to regret sitting at the table and throwing out the wrong card. They deserve whatever is coming to them. You just don’t renege.

No one is really taught how to play Spades, you just have to sit next to a table and watch. Say nothing, just watch, and hopefully you will learn something. (For a compelling and provocative explanation of the game of Spades, check out this link at . WARNING: His language is a bit saucy at times, but the article is funny.)

Once the conditions of the Spades tournament were established, it was time to consider the menu. Since our kids would be joining us for the evening, I wanted to make something that would appeal to them as well as the grown-ups. For some unknown reason, I had SpaghettiOs on the brain when I was coming up with the menu for the party. When I was a kid, I loved SpaghettiOs, not because they tasted good, but because my mom never bought them for my sister and me. I would see kids at school killing their bowls of SpaghettiOs for lunch, while I had to endure the leftovers my mom packed from the home-cooked meal she prepared the night before. It wasn’t fair, and I swore when I grew up I was going to eat SpaghettiOs everyday without my mom’s permission. I bought my first can of SpaghettiOs in high school with the money I earned working at the mall. I remember the first night I cracked open a can and dumped those saucy rings and tiny meatballs into a pot on the stove. Five minutes later, I was sitting down to my very own bowl of SpghettiOs goodness. Two seconds after that, I was spitting a mouthful of mushy noodles back into the bowl. They just didn’t taste like I remembered them in first grade when my friend let me have some of hers.

Still, SpaghettiOs sounded like a fun idea, but I definitely wasn’t going to get them from a can. I had a hard time finding ring pasta in my local markets, so I did a little research online and found anellini pasta at an online Italian specialty store.  For my kicked-up version of SpaghettiOs, I made extra marinara with a bit more sugar to mimic the sweet, saucy pasta I remembered.

Dinner was a big hit with everyone. It was fun to listen to my friends tell stories about their childhood memories involving SpaghettiOs. The evening was an even bigger success, because no one got hurt playing Spades, and we all left they party still friends, maybe even closer friends.

Let me know when you make this recipe. Take a picture and hashtag it #QUEENCITYKITCHEN. I can’t wait to see what you post!

Grown-Up SpaghettiOs
Makes 8 servings

¾ cup fresh bread crumbs
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
½ cup milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
¾ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1¼ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1¼ pounds ground turkey
½ pound Italian sausage, casings removed

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse-ground pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes
½ cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed and torn
16 ounces anelletti or ditalini pasta

Preheat the over to 400 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Whisk the bread crumbs, Parmesan, milk, eggs, parsley onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl until combined. Add the ground beef and sausage and mix with until just combined. Do not overwork the meat. Form into 1-inch meatballs and place in the prepared dish.

Drizzle the meatballs with oil, turning to coat. Bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove the meatballs from the dish and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and basil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the sauce is thickened and slightly reduced, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the meatballs, stirring to coat.

Meanwhile, prepare the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Pour the sauce and meatballs over pasta and stir to combine. Transfer to a platter and top with Parmesan cheese.



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