When Campbell's announced earlier this summer they were rolling out a new flavor of SpaghettiOs (something they've only done three times in their 50-year history), I was intrigued. At this point in my life, I do not regularly consume canned pasta products, but there was a period (fifth and six grades, specifically) when I enjoyed some Chef Boyardee Cheese Ravioli, beefaroni, etc. at least biweekly. And despite the fact that my mom and maternal grandmother made terrific Italian and Italian-American food, there was something about thin sweet sauce, squishy pasta and pellet-sauce meatballs that really appealed to me.
I haven't kept up with the (infrequent) launches of new types of SpaghettiOs, which include SpaghettiOs with Sliced Franks and SpaghettiOs Plus Calcium. (The appearance of this latter flavor is especially ironic to me because my beverage of choice when eating Campbell's pasta is, and continues to be, milk.) The newest iteration of SpaghettiOs, a cheeseburger-flavored version appropriately called "CheeseburgerOs," however, sparked my interest initially because I wondered if they would taste at all like Hamburger Helper (another supper staple of my adolescence). Cheese (cheddar, I hoped) plus ground beef plus sweet tomato pasta in a can? Pour me a bowl, please.
Locating CheeseburgerO's, however, was significantly more challenging than I expected. Multiple press releases stated the product would be available nationwide starting in August, but by the end of the month I had yet to spot it in Kroger's, Randall's, Fiesta, or HEB (and something told me not even to bother to look in WholeFoods). An e-mail sent to the friendly people in Campbell's PR department quickly revealed that CheeseburgerO's were only being sold in Walmart and Target right now in Houston. Sensing my excitement, they offered to send me a sample. Of course, I said yes; when else is FedEx going to deliver canned pasta to my door?
Feeling extra carnivorous, I tried the CheeseburgerO's alongside a porterhouse steak and an arugula salad. One might think the contrast in quality between the ambiguous meat-and-sauce blend and the grass-fed porterhouse would make the former taste bland and cheap, but surprisingly, the seemingly pedestrian CheeseburgerO's held their own in terms of flavor (which was primarily dominated by notes of beef, paprika, sweet tomatoes, and processed cheese) against my snobby steak. What's more, the O's texture, just a shade past al dente, in many ways was superior to the steak, whose inconsistent marbling led to varying degrees of tenderness.
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I didn't expect a sophisticated taste profile in the CheeseburgerO's and I didn't find one. I don't much care. And, if you like me, harbor nostalgia for rainy-day lunches of SpaghettiO's, you won't mind either.