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pasta with a hangover built right in
Happy post-Daylight Savings, for those who celebrate! Feeling jet lagged for a few days is the worst part about it, in my opinion. But I eat dog food, so you can take my opinion as you will.
For this week’s free version of the newsletter, I’m revisiting a recipe I made once a long time ago, when I was first teaching myself how to cook.
Everyone starts with pasta, don’t they? It’s great because you can make it as simple or as fancy as you like. And one of the first “fancy” pasta dishes I ever made was red wine spaghetti. I am pretty sure I found a recipe for it while reading Bon Appétit, because I used to read that magazine religiously. (Funny to think I’ve actually written for them now.)
When I first stumbled across it, my mind was blown. The idea that you could boil spaghetti noodles in red wine was so novel to me. And the photo of the noodles was so cool. They were this bizarre shade of dark purple, which in retrospect, looks sort of gross. But that was what drew me to it.
When I tried making the red wine spaghetti, the noodles came out looking just like they did in the magazine photo. This made me feel like a goddamn chef. For some reason, the recipe showed back up in one of my social media feeds recently, which brought back that memory of making it for the first time.
I’ve been through a lot since then. Not only did I learn how to cook, I eventually became the greatest food writer in all of history.
I said to myself, “Dannis, you are now a superstar. You must look back upon your past fondly, when you were a young man. Now that you have this sick newsletter, you can revisit humble memories to make it sound like you’ve come so far in your life. But nobody must know that your salary back then was more than you make now, which is a fact that makes you feel bad about yourself almost every day.”
Wow, the nostalgia! In order to reconcile my more successful past with my current, much less financially stable career, I thought, perhaps I can take a stroll down memory lane.
I could go back to that red wine spaghetti, except to make myself feel better about it today, I could make it real dumb. That’d show my past self.
So that’s why I decided to make it one more time. With Franzia.
I used to buy Franzia when I was in college, because the idea of drinking any kind of wine made me feel like a real adult.
For some reason I strictly used to buy the white zinfandel variety. It’s that beautiful classy shade of pink, like cheap body spray you can get at Walgreens. Plus, it comes in boxes. (It actually comes in a bag which is stuffed into a box, which makes it even better.)
But man, that shit gave me a hangover. These days, if I even look at a box, I feel sick. I felt terrible even putting the box into my grocery cart.
Seriously, this whole spigot-in-a-box thing is so funny to me.
It’s like hiding a pouch of Capri Sun inside a wine bottle to make it feel more high class.
And speaking of Capri Sun, that’s also what Franzia White Zinfandel tastes like.
It’s also still that delicate shade of rose, but has the bouquet of juice box and just enough alcohol in the nose to make your stomach churn a little bit.
Then I dumped what was probably about seven of the 34 glasses of wine contained inside the box (as it proudly proclaims) into the Dutch oven.
It transformed into a greasy salmon color, which wasn’t super appealing.
As it heated up, the apartment began to smell a little sour. Nothing beats the idea of a little sour hangover pasta for a late lunch. I was not particularly excited, especially considering this was going to be the first thing I’d eaten all day, and smelling simmering Franzia on an empty stomach was sending my brain mixed messages.
Eventually that salmon pink color reduced into a slightly more burgundy hue, and it looked more like red wine.
The Bon Appétit recipe says it should take about 25-30 minutes to get to this point, but it was easily 10 minutes longer than that. I had a pot of water coming to a boil for the noodles going at the same time, and every single window in the apartment fogged up with sublimated Franzia and steam.
Then I tossed some of the finest Kroger spaghetti noodles known to man into the boiling water (which I salted, of course, with my tears), and let that go until they were partially, but not completely, cooked.
Man, I do some really terrible shit to Italian food on this newsletter. If Davida and I ever go visit Italy, I’m probably returning home in a body bag. Everyone does say some really nice stuff about Tuscany, though.
Once the spaghetti is partially cooked, you’re supposed to finish it in the slightly syrupy wine mixture.
That’s when it takes on the color of the reduced wine. The white zinfandel Franzia wasn’t exactly the same purplish hue as boiled down regular-people wine, but deep inside, I knew it wouldn’t be exactly the same as the first time I made it. These are different days, you know? Also these are completely different ingredients.
I finished off the pasta by tossing in a few pats of butter, and sprinkled some Parmesan and fresh basil on top, just for the hell of it.
The pasta was about the same gentle shade of pink as the white zinfandel was, so it wasn’t quite as horrific-looking as the original red wine spaghetti. At least it had that going for it.
I took a bite. Nothing really prepares you for the flavor of sweet and sour pasta. The interesting thing about pasta cooked in wine is that the flavor permeates the entire noodle. Pasta’s usually only flavored on its exterior, so having that intense flavor go all the way through the noodle itself is pretty wild.
Davida came over to try some and she said, “It’s better than Fazoli’s, but not as good as Olive Garden.” Harsh, but fair. “I hate to say it, but the pasta at Olive Garden is good.”
I’d have been really worried about the trajectory of my cooking if it was worse than Fazoli’s. I’ve only been to a Fazoli’s once or twice in my life. Even though it’s been over 20 years since I’ve had it, I still remember how terrible it was. Davida asked our Amazon Echo where the nearest Fazoli’s is, and apparently the closest location is 60 miles away in Valparaiso, Indiana. Road trip!
Hey, maybe my wallet’s not exactly flush with cash, but my food writing is how Davida and I met. So eating Franzia noodles with her on a dreary almost-spring day is about as good as it gets, now that I think about it. I have weird red wine spaghetti to thank for that, and now we’ve got some leftover box wine noodles in the fridge for later.
Maybe learning how to cook wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.
Great, now I have at least 27 more glasses of Franzia left in the house. Maybe I’ll bathe in it. If you could all do me a favor and share today’s edition of Food is Stupid on social media, or forward it to every Italian you know, I’d be grateful. It helps grow the newsletter, and your validation makes me regret my career choices just a little less:
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Nothing goes better with Franzia spaghetti than Pedialyte spaghetti (gotta nurse that pasta hangover somehow), so if you’re a paid subscriber, look out for that edition in your inbox later.
As always, I love you all so very much, and I’ll hop into some of your inboxes soon. Have the beautiful week you all deserve.