The Mensch Chef Mitchell Davis
by Mitchell Davis

Jewish Spaghetti

Well, if there is any recipe in this book that could stand as a totem for the kind of food I grew up on, it is Jewish Spaghetti. To this day, it serves as the ultimate comfort food for every member of my family. It was so much a part of our vernacular, that we thought it was a recipe shared by Jews throughout the Diaspora. When I realized that no one at school had the foggiest idea what I was talking about when I referred to it casually in conversation, I was crushed like a Hunts tomato.
Jewish Spaghetti is a recipe that originated with my great grandmother Eva. It was made by my grandmother and her three sisters. It is made regularly by my mother. I can't think of a piece of sole breaded in matzo meal and fried in butter without a scoop of Jewish Spaghetti on the side. It isn't really spaghetti, or even Jewish, for that matter, at all. But never you mind.
If anything, Jewish Spaghetti probably has its roots in Italy. I had a revelation once when I was cooking in Italy and the chef for whom I was working was preparing the employee meal-spaghetti in tomato sauce. I was in Piedmont at the time, and in that region every pasta dish is finished with a generous dose of butter. The tomato sauce had been made fresh from those sweet Sicilian tomatoes that are hung to dry slightly to concentrate their flavor and sugar content. Made with fresh pasta, the end result was as close to Jewish Spaghetti as you could get. I was so excited I telephoned home to share my discovery with my family. Everyone at the restaurant in Italy thought I was pazzo.
Unlike its Italian cousin, Jewish Spaghetti is best if it is made in the morning and reheated at night. You can reheat it in a pot on the stove, or in a casserole that you bake in the oven. My mother dots the top with a little extra butter before she heats it up. It is also good cold from the fridge.

Yield: Makes about 8 servings


  • 1 pound dried pasta, preferably a small, compact shape, such as rotini, fusilli, elbow macaroni, ditalini, tubettti, shells, or similar
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups (1 15-ounce can plus 1 8-ounce can) Hunt's Tomato Sauce, not Italian style, not salt-free, just the regular one
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water (about 4 quarts water with 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt) to a boil. Add the pasta, stir, and cook until just past al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain. Do not rinse.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the tomato sauce, sugar, salt, and pepper. The amount of sugar necessary will depend on the sweetness of the tomato sauce-yes in this modern, standardized, industrialized age, every can of tomato sauce still has a slightly different flavor. Add the drained noodles and stir to coat. Turn off the heat, cover and let sit several hours at room temperature so that the noodles absorb the sauce.

To serve, reheat in one of two ways: Transfer the pasta to a 2-quart baking dish. Dot the top with about a tablespoon or so of butter, cover with aluminum foil, and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake a few more minutes until crisp on top. Alternately, you can just reheat the pasta over a low flame on top of the stove, stirring frequently to prevent burning.

A Bissel Advice

It isn't even spaghetti! Truth be told, you can use just about any shape of pasta to make this dish, but I prefer the smaller shapes. My mother's favorite shape these days is rotini. But like the flavor of every can of tomato sauce, the name of every shape of pasta changes among brands. One company's rotini is another company's fusilli. Find a shape you like and stick with it. If you want to use spaghetti, break it up into smaller piece as you put it in the boiling water to cook.

Do I get kick-backs from Hunt's. Nope. But over the years my family has tried every different brand of tomato sauce on the market. And the only one that gives Jewish Spaghetti is characteristic sweet, tomatoey flavor is the one made by Hunt's.

How much should I make? This dish is good at any temperature: hot, cold, lukewarm. Because my mother always let it sit on the stove all day, she had to make extra to compensate for the tastes we would sneak whenever we would pass through the kitchen.

Kosher Status

Milchig. Don't even try to make this with anything except butter. It's sacrilegious and unappetizing.

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