Homemade Spaghettios.

Awhile ago, I made a recipe category for “faster-than-fast-food” meals, and promised that I was going to fill ‘er up. As it turns out, I might’ve made things a little too strict (shock-er, I know) with all the must-start-from-scratch and dishes-count-as-time-spent rules. Homemade spaghettios might break that rule, but it’s BARELY more clean-up than a box of mac and cheese, and that HAS to fit the category, right??

Confession: until I made this recipe when my four-year-old was tiny, I had never actually had “spaghettios”. So I really have no idea if they taste anything like this. But this quick, kinda-creamy tomato sauce has a ton of flavor from garlic and butter, a happy saltiness from the cheddar cheese, and the ditalini is just so darn cute! (You could also use a different small pasta shape, like itty bitty shells or elbows.)

It’s crucial that you follow the order of the steps in the recipe if you want this to be ready in 20 minutes! I set a stopwatch and mine was ready in 21:30. :o)

So: put water in a pot and get it on the stove to boil for the pasta. Start warming olive oil in a big pan or another pot.

ditalini pasta, smashed garlic, and tomato sauce for homemade spaghettios

You could mince or press the garlic, but I like to just smash a clove with the flat part of the knife like they do on cooking shows and let the whole clove simmer in the sauce. Then I remove it at the end – since the sauce doesn’t cook for very long, I find the garlic flavor a little intense if I mince it and leave it in.

Toss the smashed garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes into the pan, and let it sizzle in the oil for about 30 seconds. Add a can of tomato sauce, a little tomato paste, water, and a little sugar, salt and pepper. Stir in a pat of butter until it melts, and then stir in a little milk and let the sauce simmer gently.

If all goes according to plan, the pasta water will be boiling by now, and you can add the pasta to the pot. My ditalini needed 10 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time to simmer the sauce. It also gives you just enough time to make a quick salad toss baby carrots on everyone’s plate, cut up some fruit, and pour the drinks!

Fish out the garlic, then stir in some cheese until it melts.

mixing cheese into the sauce for homemade spaghettios

Then add the cooked, drained pasta!

mixing pasta and sauce for homemade spaghettios

And there you have it – homemade spaghettios! I love this exact ratio of sauce:pasta, and it’s a nice change of pace from either macaroni and cheese or pasta + jar of sauce – but it’s still made from pantry ingredients and a couple of fridge staples! Plus, twenty minutes. Ish.

a pan of homemade spaghettiosBonus: those cute teeny pasta shapes are great finger foods for babies!

Homemade Spaghettios.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Homemade Spaghettios.


    1/2 recipe (serves one adult + 2 small kids):
  • 6 oz ditalini pasta (or other small pasta)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed but left whole
  • small pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 8 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 Tablespoon tomato paste (I buy it in a tube like toothpaste for recipes like this that just need a little!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • a couple of grinds of pepper, to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Full recipe (serves 2 adults + 2 small kids + a little left over)
  • 12 oz ditalini pasta (or other small pasta)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed but left whole pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 15-16 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste (I buy it in a tube like toothpaste for recipes like this that just need a little!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a few grinds of pepper, to taste
  • 2-3 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese


Fill a pot with water and place on the stove to boil.

Start warming a pan with the olive oil over medium heat. Smash the garlic and add it and the red pepper flakes to the pan and let them sizzle for about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato sauce, water, tomato paste, sugar, and salt and pepper. Stir in the butter until it melts. Slowly stir in the milk, then reduce heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes.

When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook as directed on the package until al dente (if all goes according to plan, this will be about 10 minutes, the same amount of time as the sauce simmers!)

Off heat, stir the cheese into the sauce until melted.

Drain the pasta and stir it into the finished tomato sauce.


If you plan to have leftovers, I recommend storing the pasta and sauce separately.

Sometimes my sauce turns out a little grainy, like the cheese didn't melt perfectly. It doesn't bother me at all, but if you think you wouldn't like that just add the cheese to individual bowls instead!

This recipe is adapted from Seeded at the Table



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  1. I never know what to make when friends w/kiddos come over for dinner. Pinning this for next time!! Plus, I’m pretty sure all the adults will love it too 🙂

    1. This would work really well for that! As would those parmesan chicken nuggets you posted recently – yum! :o)

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