The Secret to Supermarket Spaghetti

Supermarket Spaghetti

And now for something a little different: this particular blog post isn’t about design or technology or even movies or media, but rather food. You may be busy designing the heck out of the future, but you’ve still gotta eat, don’t you? And sometimes you’ve got to eat the basics—like spaghetti.

This is a recipe—an approach, really—for making regular spaghetti actually taste good, delicious even. The emphasis here is on regular. There’s nothing fancy about this recipe. In fact the whole point of this recipe is that you can make it from cheap stuff you can buy from just about any supermarket. And I make no claims to it being authentically Italian (it calls for store-bought pasta sauce in a jar!) other than it tastes legitimately great.

This is an approach that I figured out after cooking countless pots of spaghetti for myself as a bachelor, always frustrated that it never tasted particularly good. If you follow the instructions on a box of pasta and a jar of sauce what you get is sauce sitting on top of overcooked pasta—two flavors that fail to unite in any particularly appealing fashion. This approach fixes that; it basically helps the pasta absorb the sauce, while retaining a satisfying al dente texture. Over the years I’ve made it for many people and they’re always surprised that a dollar-fifty box of spaghetti can taste so good. It’s also a favorite with my kids.

As with all cooking, the fresher and higher quality the ingredients you use, the better. So if you swap out sauce in a jar for fresh made sauce, you can actually still use the rest of this approach to get great results. The whole point of this recipe though is that you don’t need high-end stuff to still get a delicious meal.

However, if there’s one ingredient I recommend you track down, it’s the spaghetti rigati, made by Barilla. This variant on standard spaghetti is constitutionally identical to Barilla’s other semolina pastas but its taste stands a world apart from plain old spaghetti thanks to its ingenious innovation of rigatoni-style “ridges” (hence the name). Well, not quite ridges, but close enough; in actuality the profile of the noodle is basically like a cross or plus-sign rather than spaghetti’s traditional circle, but they’re ridge-like enough in that they help trap sauce and oil, bonding it to the noodle and enhancing the taste of your meal significantly.

Barilla Spaghetti Rigati

Spaghetti rigati is no pricier than traditional spaghetti, but it is a little harder to find. You might think that that means you’d need to go to a high-end supermarket for it but in fact the opposite is true, as Barilla brand products are usually only found in “regular” supermarket chains. Not every store that sells Barilla pasta stocks spaghetti rigati though, but it should be easy enough for them to order it if you ask the management nicely.

Again, this is all about the basics, so you can actually still get great results from any kind of spaghetti, or any brand of any of these ingredients that I list below. Really, the only requirement here is that you know where to find a grocery store. That’s why I call it “Supermarket Spaghetti.”


  • 16 ounce box Barilla spaghetti rigati or any brand thin spaghetti
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage, spicy or sweet
  • 24 ounce jar Rao’s Homemade marinara sauce or any other brand
  • Extra virgin olive oil, lots
  • Pecorino Romano cheese


First, bring a large pot of water to boil for the spaghetti. Most dried pasta advises you to add salt and you can do that if you like, but I don’t bother.

If cooking with link sausage, remove the meat from the casing. In a large saucepan, heat up a tablespoon of olive oil and brown the sausage on medium-high heat. When it looks cooked, after three or four minutes, add one-third of the marinara sauce, mix it with the meat, and turn the flame to low. Add another third of the jar of sauce, mix it in, cover the saucepan, and allow to simmer gently.

When the pot of water has reached a boil, add the pasta and cook—this is important—for one minute less than instructions on the box advise. So if the box says “6-7 minutes,” set a timer for five minutes. Do not overcook.

When the pasta is done, remove from the heat and drain. (Don’t bother saving the water.) Immediately put the pot, now empty, back on the range at low heat and add a quarter cup of olive oil. Quickly put the spaghetti in the pot again and generously drizzle more olive oil over the noodles (3 Tbsp). Toss for less than thirty seconds until the olive oil is thoroughly mixed in. Turn off the burner.

Spoon about a half-cup of of the sausage and sauce mixture into the pot of pasta and mix thoroughly until the noodles are coated. This allows this sauce to bond with the noodles, and it also prevents the noodles from sticking together.

Serve the noodle in bowls, spooning additional sauce on top of each. Garnish with grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Then get back to designing whatever you were designing before.