This weeknight pantry pasta recipe is a simple pasta dish made with canned tomatoes, onion, bacon, chili powder, and spaghetti. It's a beloved family recipe that takes less than 30 minutes to throw together with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. Best of all, it's super kid-friendly.
Where did this recipe come from?
My grandma was a big-boned woman with a friendly face and a never-ending appetite for both food and human interaction. Some of my earliest memories of her are in the kitchen, and my love of food almost certainly came from her. Her mom, my great-grandma Gertrude, invented this dish, which we affectionately refer to as “Spaghetti Red."
My grandma made it every time I visited her, and my mom served it at least a couple of times a month. Every time my mom made it, I insisted on calling my grandma—it was part of the Spaghetti Red (pantry pasta) ritual, and even though she’s been gone over ten years, I still find myself wanting to pick up the phone and call her when I make it in my own home.
It’s a recipe that’s never actually been written down but the whole family knows how to make. It’s easy, fast (less than 30 minutes!), cheap, and can be made with what’s already in your pantry, which is probably part of why it’s so beloved among those of us who are familiar with it. It is, at its root, depression-era comfort-food—it's not fancy, full of fresh vegetables, or especially healthy, but it’s a recipe I fall back on again and again when I have a long day or a poorly stocked refrigerator (and sometimes, just because I feel like I need a hug from my grandma).
Here's what you need (hint: it's not much).
- Spaghetti. You can sub a different pasta if you want, but the spaghetti is just so good.
- Bacon. Just use regular bacon. We all know that turkey bacon doesn't taste the same. This pasta isn't trying to be a health recipe...don't make it something it's not. My grandma wouldn't like that.
- Onion. I use a sweet onion. The one rolling around at the bottom of your pantry is fine too.
- Canned diced tomatoes. Fresh tomatoes just aren't the same. Plus I know you've been asking yourself, "What can I make with this can of tomatoes?" Now you have your answer.
- Spices: Salt and Chili powder. I know the chili powder sounds weird. I know. Just go with it.
The beauty of this pantry recipe is that it's SO. SIMPLE.
When I first considered sharing this recipe with the world, I thought I might need to dress it up a bit to appeal to a 21st-century, fresh-food-crazed audience. I tested it with cherry tomatoes instead of canned, I added fresh herbs and a sprinkle of parmesan, and I dialed back the chili powder. But in the end, it wasn’t really Spaghetti Red anymore, and it didn’t make me want to call my grandma. So, this is the real Spaghetti Red recipe (or, as I'm calling it here, Weeknight Pantry Pasta), unedited. I hope it brings you the same joy it has always brought me.
To make this pantry pasta, I cut bacon into squares and cook them in a pan over medium heat until nearly crispy. From there I sauté diced onion directly in the bacon grease until translucent and slightly crisp on the edges, add a can of diced tomatoes, chili powder, and salt to taste. I let it simmer for a few minutes (never as long as I should, because I lack patience when it comes to, well, everything), and mix it with spaghetti cooked al dente. It goes well with a light salad or some roasted veggies, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll pile it on your plate so fast you forget about the sides.
Weeknight Pantry Pasta Recipe: FAQs
Nope! The onions cook in the bacon grease (instead of added oil), and they soak most of it up. It adds a ton of flavor to the final product.
I don't think so! In my opinion, the chili powder elevates the other flavors in the dish rather than standing out on its own. This dish isn't really spicy at all--I ate it regularly as a kid, and I know others in my family did too.
I've been eating it so long it's hard to describe, but it's a bit salty from the bacon, a bit sweet from the canned tomatoes, and super warm and comforting from the chili powder. It's comfort food at its finest.