I like spaghetti just as much as the next person. No, I probably like spaghetti more than the next person. And the one after that. And the one after that. In fact, I may like spaghetti more than anyone I know. Here are some of the ways I like spaghetti:
- On a plate.
- Twirled around a fork.
- In my mouth, but also in my stomach.
- Once I had them in a bath and that was very good, too.
- I love to douse the sweet tendrils in a tangy tomato sauce or coat them in a silky sweater of olive oil and garlic. I make it rain chopped parsley all over them noodles.
Spaghetti is a dear friend, you see.
But recently, my spaghetti has run amok. Suddenly it's in the business of putting itself in weird places. First there was a spaghetti conundrum dragged from the murky depths of the internet: strands of pasta threaded through peas, bits of hotdog, and cherry tomatoes as if they were medieval jousting sticks. My coworker Erin indulged this gobsmacked glutinous fever dream. She described it as “magic.” To which I readily counter: Okay, maybe they are. I mean, carby pasta and salty hot dogs all laced with butter doesn’t sound all that bad.
And yet! There’s something off, something not quite right—kind of like that feeling when you walk out of a yoga class and put on Adidas slides and don’t realize until an hour later that they’re not actually yours and you accidentally wore someone else’s shoes all the way home. That’s the feeling the threaded spaghetti gives me.
So imagine the gobsmacked sensation that ran from the tip of my slightly longer second toe to the end of the piece of hair that sticks up on the top of my head (no matter how much gel I use) when I laid my poor eyes on a new creation. A creature so unsightly it made me say “egad."
Egad! Spaghetti grilled cheese.
Read from top to bottom, this spaghetti-filled grilled cheese goes like this: crunchy bread, a layer of cheese (melted), a stack of spaghetti coated in red sauce, another layer of cheese (also melted), and then a second piece of crunchy bread. It’s the five-story culinary creation of my nightmares.
Why, you may ask, am I left so aghast at the poor thing? It’s just pasta shoved into a sandwich. Are you so faint of heart that a carb-on-carb heap like this has you clutching your pearls? To which I’ll respond: Yes. It unsettles me, shifts so much of the foundation I find myself comfortably standing on everyday of my life and I’d rather it not.
Any normal person, should they want to, could just avoid the spaghetti grilled cheese. They could unfollow certain Instagram accounts or stealthily exit certain conversations by pretending a bug flew in their eye. But those people don’t work in food and those people don’t have editors who turn to them, smiling, “Hey, can you make this spaghetti grilled cheese at home and write about it?"
So, like Amelia Earhart or Sir Ernest Shackleton before me, I set out on what seemed like an impossible quest: To make myself the slurpy creation that is the spaghetti grilled cheese. Who knows, maybe I’d actually enjoy it?
I didn’t follow a recipe. I figured the contents of the sandwich were simple enough, but before I went across the street to a grocery store, I did a quick google. The smallest bit of sleuthing led me to the conclusion that the spaghetti grilled cheese actually comes from our most populous state: California. A restaurant called Burnt Crumbs in Huntington Beach, to be exact. The sensation took off in the summer of 2016, when the restaurant first opened. Its origin story, according to an article on Foodbeast, is relatively simple: “The head chef at Burnt Crumbs explained that he had left over spaghetti one night and decided to put it between two slices of garlic bread. After throwing it on the menu, it immediately became the most ordered sandwich of the lot.”
With a bit of context under my belt, I went across the street to my grocery store and walked out with a roll, a ball of mozzarella, a box of spaghetti, and a can of tomatoes. Supplies in tow, I got to work right away. For starters, I chose not to make the garlic bread as the loafy bookmarks because I was feeling lazy and figured the effect would be similar enough without them. I chose mozzarella because in all of the recipes I perused online, it seemed to be the most popular option. As for the pasta, I opted for a simple red sauce (thanks again, Marcella Hazan!) instead of a meaty bolognese because it seemed like a lighter, easier to manipulate alternative.
I charted my course. I started by boiling the water for pasta and getting started on my sauce. For those who don’t know about Ms. Hazan’s life-giving tomato elixir, listen up. It’s just canned tomatoes, a generous chunk of butter, and an onion sliced in half. Altogether they hop in a jacuzzi fit for three and bubble away to their (and your) hearts' content. Once that was ready, I tossed it with my cooked spaghetti. Meanwhile, I toasted bread, soft side down, in just a biiiiiit of butter until it was slightly crispy and goldy gold. Then I sliced some mozzarella and, like a parent who likes both of their kids equally, distributed some cheese to both sides. I covered that with a lid to let the cheese get all melty.
At this point, I had two pans. In one was spaghetti slithering through a pool of red sauce. In another, a grilled cheese. And there I stood, between them, like a preacher, my palms raised, about to join the two. Before I could even begin to think about second-guessing myself, before someone could barrel through the double doors of whatever church I now imagined myself inside of and bellow "I OBJECT!" I flipped the lid off of the bread’s pan and layered one side with a generous tongful of spaghetti. Then I closed the sandwich and pressed it down, careful to make sure all of the contents fused together.
Spaghetti began slipping out the sides, as if adhering to some sort of supernatural order, like magnets repelling themselves from their opposites. But I persisted. I pressed that sandwich while simultaneously stuffing the pasta back through the sides until I didn’t think I could for one second longer. I lifted my spatula off the top and transferred the whole affair to a plate. I took a step back.
It looked so much like itself I was shocked. I thought maybe, after all was said and done, the sandwich would have undergone some unexpected transformation and I would be looking at something new and strange and altogether unrecognizable. But as I stared at my soon-to-be dinner it was unmistakably exactly what it was: a bungle of spaghetti held together by grippy melted cheese held together by two pieces of buttery bread. This was a spaghetti grilled cheese, there was no doubt about it. And nothing else.
I cut into it, took the messiest bite of my life, and have to report that after everything, after all my musings, all my fuss, all my neuroses, it was honestly fine. It tasted, unsurprisingly, like a cheesy sandwich stuffed with spaghetti. The carb on carb action was a bit much for me, but I would never call it gross. I fed the other half to a friend who scarfed theirs down and then said “TBH, I liked it.” I gave him the rest of my half to finish.
I still don’t know what about the spaghetti grilled cheese made me so ill at ease. I remembered a time at camp when I refused to swing down a zip line, and the camp counselor told me to “lean into discomfort.” Confronted with this culinary endeavor, I thought back to Brian in his sporty sunglasses and Tevas sandals. He was right. I grabbed hold of the handles of the spaghetti zip line and stepped off the platform. In the end, it wasn’t all that bad.