Instant Pot Magic: Spaghetti with Diced Tomato & Meat Sauce

For me, the joy of an “Instant Pot” is all about the challenge. I am starting out the New Year with another of my “Instant Pot” experiments. Can you cook spaghetti with diced tomato & meat sauce in an Instant Pot? Although cooking pasta on the stove in one pot and meat sauce in another pot really isn’t difficult, an Instant Pot does save several steps and it reduces the number of pots that you have to wash. (And that is so important.) Plus, homemade spaghetti sauce tastes better than any commercial one, in my opinion, and it is easy to make. As an added benefit, the homemade sauce can be made so that it is not high in sodium (salt). Spaghetti with meat sauce has always been one of our favorite “go to” suppers. With a “never give up” approach; I made this simple recipe over and over in an Instant Pot trying to get the process perfected.

My inspiration for making spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce in an Instant Pot comes from the familiar chain restaurant, Olive Garden. We had a couple of gift cards for the restaurant and so we enjoyed a leisurely, belated birthday lunch there. I ordered “Chicken Parmesan” which was served with spaghetti mixed with a very light and flavorful diced tomato sauce. The diced tomatoes — rather than a thick tomato sauce — gave the dish a totally different appearance and taste. The sauce was full of fresh basil and tomato flavors. Provolone cheese, melted on the crispy Chicken Parmesan, blended nicely with the spaghetti. I did enjoy this entrée! And I have lots of fresh basil growing in my garden.

Instant Pot Recipe?

Can you cook this dish, “Chicken Parmesan with Spaghetti & Diced Tomatoes,” in an Instant Pot? I gave it a try and had mixed success. The chicken breasts steamed rather than fried. They were soft and did not have a crispy crust. But the diced tomato sauce and spaghetti noodles turned out superbly. I made this entrée several times — substituting ground beef for the chicken breasts. (For the “Chicken Parmesan,” I seared breaded chicken breasts on the stove in an iron skillet and transferred the iron skillet to the oven for finishing. That’s another blog post)

Tips for Cooking Spaghetti in an Instant Pot

While cooking of all these experiments, I learned several tips. If you follow my process exactly, you will come out with a successful “one-pot” meal. Otherwise, you might have a mess. The real triumph of this method is that you don’t need to add additional water to cook the noodles. (The water in the diced tomatoes is plenty.) So, no need to pre-cook and drain the spaghetti noodles and cook the sauce in another pot. Everything is done in the “Instant Pot”.

The first tip which I discovered is that there are spaghetti noodles on the market which work perfectly in an Instant Pot. There’s even a measuring gauge on the top of box which allows you to estimate the ounces of spaghetti noodles. And, you don’t use the entire pound of spaghetti (or the entire box) in this recipe, I used about 4 ounces. This is about the maximum which will easily fit in a 6-quart Instant Pot.

The second tip is to layer the noodles onto the other ingredients in a random crisscross “Pick-Up Stick” order. Otherwise the noodles will clump together and make an inedible mess. In this system, the noodles go into the pot as the last ingredient. And don’t stir. As you can see in this photo, no noodle is touching another one. Well, almost.

The third tip backs up to the beginning of the process. Use the Instant Pot to brown the ground meat and onions. I used the sauté setting on the Instant Pot. Stir as needed — leave the lid to the Instant Pot off. I set the timer for 5 minutes. If the ingredients brown quicker, just cancel the rest of the time.

You can make either a vegetarian version — omitting the ground beef — or one with meat. In either case, the onion and ground beef (if using) need to be cooked and excess oil drained off. The cooking time — once the noodles are added — isn’t enough to totally cook the meat.

If using beef, add a small can of tomato sauce to the beef. I add the seasonings to the browned beef and mixed them in. If making a vegetarian version, I sprinkle the seasons evenly on the diced tomatoes. In either case, DON’T stir the diced tomatoes.

Here are the seasonings which I typically use to make homemade pasta sauce. They are oregano, dried basil, salt (optional), black pepper and about 1/2 Tbsp sugar. Sometimes I also add Worcestershire sauce. This makes a delicious sauce — better than commercial ones (in my opinion). Omitting the added salt and using salt-free diced tomatoes significantly reduces the sodium in the sauce. Save fresh basil for garnish after the dish is cooked. Fresh basil looses its flavor when cooked.

The fourth tip is to add 2 cans of diced tomatoes on top of the beef — and DON’T STIR. You need the liquid from the tomatoes to be at the top. The Instant Pot uses steam to pressurize the pot. You must have enough liquid in the pot to create the steam and it must be able to escape to the top of the pot. Otherwise your Instant Pot will hiss at you and the alarms will go off. Two cans of petite diced tomatoes with the juice is just enough. (If your Instant Pot refuses to come to pressure and hisses, carefully remove the lid and pour in a can of water. Then resume where you left off.)

Lastly, layer the dry spaghetti noodles in a crisscross pattern (like “Pick-up Sticks”) on top of everything else. Don’t stir or try to mash the dry pasta into the tomatoes. Place the lid on the Instant Pot and lock. Make sure the pressure steam valve is closed. Cook on “High” pressure setting for 10 minutes.

Immediately, quick release the steam and pressure, carefully remove the lid of the Instant Pot. Turn the lid away from you, and remember, steam is hot and it does burn.

Okay, now stir. The spaghetti with sauce is cooked. This is the “vegetarian” version, without meat.

As the cooked spaghetti sets, it absorbs more of the liquid. Garnish with fresh basil. To re-create the Olive Garden Restaurant entrée, I served the spaghetti and diced tomatoes with Oven-Baked “Chicken Parmesan.” It makes a delicious entrée, good for any time of the year. The diced tomatoes give a totally different texture and taste to this sauce. It is “lite” and refreshing. It took alot of attempts to get this dish figured out — this is not as easy as it may sound. But I am pleased with the results.

I’m having a great time experimenting with my Instant Pot. Other dishes which I am working on include “Southern Dried Lima Beans with Smoked Ham, “Black Bean Soup,” “King Cake” using the Instant Pot for a way to let the yeast bread “rise” and “French Toast for Two.” So check back!

Instant Pot Magic: Spaghetti with Diced Tomato and Meat Sauce

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef (optional)
  • 1 (8-oz) can tomato sauce (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp dried basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp ground oregano
  • 1 tsp salt (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 (14.5-oz) cans petit diced tomatoes with juice (if desired, use salt-free tomatoes)
  • 4 oz dried spaghetti noodles
  • fresh basil, garnish

Instructions and Steps:

  1. Set 6-quart Instant Pot to Sauté setting for 5 minutes. Add olive oil, chopped onion and ground beef (optional). Cook, with Instant Pot lid off, and stir until ground beef is no longer pink. Cancel remaining time on Sauté setting. Drain off excess oil.
  2. If using ground beef, stir in the can of tomato sauce. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, sugar, dried basil leaves, ground oregano, salt (optional) and black pepper. If making vegetarian version, sprinkle seasonings evenly and directly over diced tomatoes.
  3. Pour both cans of petite diced tomatoes with juice over ground beef. (For vegetarian version, pour over sautéed onions.) DO NOT STIR.
    1. Add dried spaghetti noodles over diced tomatoes in a crisscross pattern (like “Pick-up Sticks” (so that the noodles don’t touch.) This is the top layer. DO NOT STIR the spaghetti noodles.
  4. Place the lid on the Instant Pot and lock in place. Make sure the vent release valve is closed. Set the Pressure Setting to “High” and the time to 10 minutes. (The actual cooking time will be longer than 10 minutes, as it takes several minutes for the Instant Pot to come to the pressure temperature.)
  5. When the cooking time is done, immediately use the quick release valve to release the steam. After the pressure bulb shows that all the pressure is release, remove the lid.
  6. Stir the meat and diced pasta sauce.
  7. Using hot pads, remove to serving bowl. Garnish with fresh basil.

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