Food News

Food YouTuber recreates Chef Boyardee’s original spaghetti dinner recipe

For decades, Chef Boyardee-brand pasta products have been a staple for afterschool snacks, or special dinner treats, college dorm room standsbys and smiling faces across US grocery stores.

While the line now offers around 30 variations of tomato-sauced pasta products in canned or microwavable bowl form, the original product was a single box containing a canned pasta sauce, a box of spaghetti and a container of powdered parmesan cheese.

While the original Boyardee package has been off the market for decades, food historian and YouTuber Max Miller recently recreated the original signature spaghetti dinner in a video for his channel “Tasting History.”

“Spaghetti a la Boiardi,” as originally known — with the proper spelling of the pasta’s namesake, Ettore “Hector” Boiardi — is a rather basic and efficient bolognese sauce made from onions, carrots, mushrooms, ground beef, basil and the strained juice of peeled tomatoes. Notably, despite the Italian base of the sauce, other traditional ingredients like garlic and oregano are absent. The recipe is based on a description of the early mass-produced sauce and a recipe for “Uncle Hector’s Tomato Sauce” published by Ettore Boiardi’s grand niece Anna.

According to Miller — and the abbreviated biography of the chef on the Boyardee website — Boiardi’s journey to supermarket fame began in 1924 when he opened his own restaurant, Il Giardino d’Italia in Cleveland, Ohio. Over the first couple of years of the restaurant’s success, customers allegedly enjoyed his signature “Spaghetti a la Boiardi” so much that they would ask for more sauce to take home. Miller notes that Italian cuisine was still fairly novel to the US outside major East Coast ports like Boston and New York City, so Boiardi’s spaghetti meat sauce was a novel “treat” for those dining at his restaurant.

To oblige customer’s requests, the chef would rinse out and fill used milk jars with the sauce and include an appropriately portioned amount of dried spaghetti and instructions on preparing at home. As the legend progresses — the actual details are hazy to historians — a local couple who owned a chain of Cleveland grocery stories had a similarly hugely positive reaction to his signature sauce and asked if they could sell it in their business.

As the sauce flew off the shelves, Boiardi was struggling to keep up with demand just making it out of his restaurant’s kitchen. So, in 1928, roughly a year after his sauce grocery stores, Ettore Boiardi joined forces with his brother Mario to establish the Chef Boiardi Food Company and founded their own factory in Pennsylvania to grow their own tomatoes and mushrooms and enact quality control over the product.

The name eventually switched to the widely-known “Boyardee” spelling after employees and salespeople spent years mispronouncing the chef’s name, so he had them spell it out phonetically. However, he did not include proper instructions on the syllable pronunciation — Boy-AR-dee instead of Boy-ar-DEE.