Life

Three Food Writers Battle Over The Best Date Night Meal With Matt Braunger


Uproxx/Matt Braunger

“Date night cooking battle?” you ask. “Haven’t you food nerds done that before?”

It’s true. This is our first do-over battle in 20 competitions. Though we’ve had a few concepts veer dangerously close to one another, none has been an exact repeat until now.

The reasons for this are three-fold. First, it’s hard to think of a Valentine’s-adjacent theme that can get us those sweet SEO clicks. More importantly, one of us (ahem, yours truly) was absolutely robbed last time because a few finicky fans don’t like fish. And finally, providing you — our faithful readers — with a recipe you might actually use to have sex is an allure we can’t deny.

This month, we’re joined by comedian Matt Braunger to help with the roasting. The standup, MADtv alum, and host of the classic “Advice from a Dipshit” podcast was all too happy to join in the shredding. His latest special: Finally Live In Portland just launched and he’s currently touring the Midwest. As you’ll see, he fit right in with the gang.

— Steve Bramucci, Editorial Director, Uproxx Life

PAST RESULTS:

BLT Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Zach 3) Steve
Mac & Cheese Showdown — 1) Vince 2) (tie) Zach, Steve
Taco Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Winter Stew Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Steve 3) Vince
Date Night Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
Pasta Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Hot Beef Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
Shellfish Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Zach 3) Steve
BBQ Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Pumpkin Spice Showdown — 1) (tie) Vince, Zach 2) Steve
Thanksgiving Side Dish Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Steve 3) Zach
Christmas Dessert Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Vince 3) Zach
Chili Cook-off Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Steve 3) Vince
Nacho Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Steve 3) Zach
Burger Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
Breakfast Burrito Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Zach 3) Steve
Fried Noodle Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Fried Chicken Sandwich Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Steve 3) Zach
Christmas Dessert Showdown Rematch: 1) Zach 2) Steve 3) Vince
Italian Comfort Food Showdown: 1) Steve 2) (tie) Zach & Vince

CURRENT SCORE:

We’re giving three points to the winner and one to second place for each round. As it stands, the score is:

ZACH: 30
VINCE: 29
STEVE: 26

STEVE’S STRACCI ALLA VODKA

Friends, a story. A few months ago, a buddy from work, one Aaron Williams, texted me for the first time ever. The text was sent late at night, around 10:30, and I was playing basketball at the gym.

Steve Bramucci

Reader, I didn’t have the battery power left to tell Aaron all that irked me about this recipe. Cream cheese? Vaguely “Italian” seasoning? Garlic powder? As a point of pride, I consider myself very unfussy. I order the sausage gravy at diners where you clearly ought not to. But you do ? not ?mess ?with Italian food. It’s the food of my father (an excellent home chef) and his father before him (a baker). My aunties in Italy will be patient in all things, but if you use a fork instead of your bare hand for rolling sausages on a skillet, they will jam that fork in your eye.

So if you ask me for advice on your recipe, you’re going to have to deal with my wrath. Which, in this case, means a dinner invite with a bunch of expensive food and booze. I’m a hardass like that. That’s exactly the vengeance Aaron received from me last month, when his girlfriend, Rhodé, arrived to town for a two-week visit. But I had to cancel. Twice. Finally, with Rhodé headed home to South Africa, I had one more shot.

“Come down tonight!” I urged. “I’m making…” It was up in the air. I’d just won our last challenge with stuffed pasta. And my last date night meal for this contest had been robbed of first place. I usually go into these with a plan; this time around, I had nothing.

I rushed to Whole Foods at 6. Guests were arriving at 7. I wandered around like a fool for ten minutes. Then I bought some shrimp. Who knows why. The human is an inscrutable lifeform and I’m no exception. I also bought pancetta. That is far more practical. Never criticize anyone for buying bacon.

And with that, an idea emerged. Pasta alla vodka. One of my favorite recipes and one I came to love when living in New York. In fact, this is far more a NYC dish than an Italian one. The Italian origins of the dish are murky, but in the five boroughs, it’s a goddamn institution. I rushed home and crashed into the kitchen at 6:45. Aaron, Rhodé, and another friend, Jenae would all be arriving at 7. I counted on them being fashionably late.

“Did you get milk for the baby?” my wife, Nikta, asked.

I hadn’t. She went to get milk. I started my son’s bedtime routine. Bath. Books. Bottle. While trying to prep the meal. It was basically this with less coke:

At 7 pm on the button, I was out of the shower and had two cans of tomatoes pureed and simmering with garlic and a heavy pour of vodka. The baby was still awake but I could put him down when Nikta got back. I needed the milk for his bottle. At 7:01 I heard our gate swing open. It was Aaron, Rhodé, and Jenae all at once. They’d met in the driveway.

I started the shrimp with butter and garlic before answering the door, so that they could have realistic hopes of eating soon.

Steve Bramucci

I made everyone cocktails. Nikta got home. I put the baby down. Everything was going well. Jeane remarked on being hungry and excited for dinner. Everyone cosigned. I started to mix pasta dough.

And then it all ground to a halt. In my rush, I hadn’t let the dough rest long enough. It started tearing in the machine. The sauce needed management. I had to explain a board game. Second cocktails were due. There was boisterous conversation.

Stephen Bramucci

I peeled the shrimp and got their husks into my tomato puree. There’s flavor to be had there and I didn’t want to miss out on it. I also put some parsley into the pot. Next, I did my pancetta, with onions.

Steve Bramucci

That’s a reallllly rough chop on those onions (I was crazed by this point and we’d moved onto wine) so I used a remedy that’s straight out of the ol’ “Bone Broth Bramuch” playbook and put an inch of broth in there. Plus another glug of vodka. That way, the onions would be softer once the liquid had evaporated and the pancetta started to sizzle and crisp up.

I got the pasta dough going again. Starting at setting 5 then 4 then 3 then 2… it was working. At this point, I could have gone to 1 and made stuffed pasta with my shrimp, which were set aside and waiting. Or I could have made it into fettuccine, which was meant to reference Aaron’s original text, but then —

“Guys, I’m gonna take off,” Jenae said. “I have a big day tomorrow. I’ll come get leftovers.”

I looked at the time. It was 9:30. Who knows how that happened. It’s impossible to say what strange alchemy of alcohol, conversation, and frenzied cooking forced the seconds to fly past. But the fact remained that a guest was leaving my dinner party without eating. It didn’t bode well.

Fearful of losing anyone else, I decided to forgo fettuccine and stuffed pasta and made stracci, Italian for “rags.” Little pieces of glutenous hand-torn pasta. Now let me clarify, stracci is a miracle. It holds sauce beautifully. It carries flavor better than any shape I know. It gets so slick and sexy after boiling in broth (which is how I fortify all my pasta these days). But I had a sinking feeling by making it.

Why? Because I’d just introduced my friend and fellow competitor Vince to the concept. Told him all about it. Explained the technique. And I knew he would be making it the next night for his dish. I can’t deny this. But I had no choice. I figured Vince might change tacts. I would warn him. After all, he wouldn’t have known about stracci without me.

I tore my pasta into pieces and got it into the broth. I strained my tomato, garlic, and shrimp base and combined it with pieces of shrimp that were cut at about a 1/8th of an inch. I added another few glugs of vodka and a whole lot of Parmagianno. Then I added about a half a cup of cream.

Steve Bramucci

While the noodles cooked, I made grilled raddichio with olive oil. Easy and necessary for a little balance. I snipped my signature herbs — just parsley and fresh oregano — grated a little more parm and we were out the door.

Almost. Vodka needs spice. Cracked back pepper and dried red pepper (which I made myself! La ti da!). Then it was done. Typical party: Guests at 7; dinner at 10; impeccable food; too much waiting.

Steve Bramucci

The process was a shit show. The photos are up and down. The cleanup conversation with Nikta was clear and direct… and resulted in me cleaning up solo at midnight. But the food… that dish — Italian by way of Brooklyn, with a nice seafood flavor (almost like a lobster bisque), and those pasta rags that I’d gifted to then stolen from Vince — was just what I needed at 10 pm on a Tuesday.

Rhodé indulged her host with a “this is tasty” photo. Aaron, however, refused this opportunity at fame. Perhaps because he liked his food so much that he was left insatiable. Or maybe because he was eating dinner at 10 pm and was half-starved. Who’s to say!?

Steve Bramucci

Zach on Steve’s Dish:

Did anyone else get a headache reading this? My god, Steve, slow-down — you’re cooking slow food, dude. Also, I feel cheated on not getting a Fettuccine all’Alfredo recipe.

I dig the pasta (looks like better stripping than Vince’s) and I also dig the grilled radicchio (made the plate pop). But, dude, you cooked shrimp twice? There’s no way in hell those things weren’t more rubbery than a twice used condom on February 15th. You know you can peel shrimp while they’re raw, right? So you cooked them and then chopped them up and cooked them again long enough for the sauce to reduce??? Good lord, son. I can abide a lot from you, Steve, but cooking those shrimp to death might be a bridge too far.

Oh, and Aaron, I use the recipe for Fettuccine all’Alfredo from Il Vero in Rome (where it was invented). Boil 250g of fettucine (half a pound) until it’s al dente (always use fresh). Scoop the cooked pasta onto a warmed plate (keep a cup or so of the pasta water to the side). Add 125 g (one-quarter pound) of each unsalted high-quality butter and finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Use a large spoon and fork to the toss the pasta while adding small amounts of the pasta water (maybe a quarter cup) until a very smooth and velvety sauce forms. Grind some salt and cracked pepper to taste over the dish and serve. It’s literally this easy.

Vince on Steve’s Dish:

Christ, I’m stressed out just reading this. I’m vicariously mortified that you had a dinner guest leave without eating. Do you know how pissed I’d be if I showed up for nice pasta and had to get McDonald’s on the way home? Are we sure she just didn’t go out to Rockaway to get her hat?

I don’t even know where to start with this. Penne alla vodka was one of the first “fancy” dishes I ever learned to cook, so I can’t pretend I’m entirely above it, but I think we can all understand that this dish becoming a “thing” is one of the great accidents of history. Consider the name alone. Two problems with vodka as the main ingredient in an Italian dish immediately present themselves: First, vodka is Russian. And second, it has no flavor. Vodka is grain alcohol distilled to a high proof and watered down with water and hopefully, made as smooth as possible. Its flavors are ethyl alcohol and water. Who knows what it even adds to the sauce? Likely nothing (and I’ve heard chefs who have this sauce on their menus admit as much). But one goombah deglazes a tomato-cream sauce with alcohol 70 years ago and now we’re stuck with it. It’s like the Electoral College of food.

It does have its place — I learned vodka sauce as a light, quick alternative to a heavy gravy. Instead of a gravy that simmers for hours, you throw some fresh tomatoes in a pan with a little garlic and olive oil and red pepper and finish it with a little cream, and you’ve got a nice bright sauce in 15 minutes. Meanwhile, YOU simmered your tomatoes for hours, tried to render some shrimp heads in there, and added massive hanks of onion chopped by a blind man boiled in bone broth. This is a disaster… but I think you know that.

Matt on Steve’s Dish:

Anything “alla vodka” always looks like unicorn jizz to me. Nothing should ever be pink and creamy but salty too. That said, the ingredients and preparation under pressure are appreciated, and I’m sure it tastes great.

But visually? It’s Pepto Bismal Barf. I bet it’s delicious but that sauce looks fucking awful. I’ve felt that about vodka sauce my whole life. Just, “no, man!”

ZACH’S “LANCASHIRE TACOS”

Zach Johnston

Tacos are the perfect date food if you ask me. They’re pretty straightforward, easy to make ahead of time and build on date night, and endlessly adaptable. Make some tasty protein ahead of time. Work together making tortillas. Then each of you can add a little of this, take away a little of that, make it your own. Everyone goes to bed happy.

Thing is, my wife (shut up, Vince) is from northwestern England, Lancashire to be exact. So, my plan here is to bring the ingredients from her home to the food from mine. It’s Indigenous English food meets an Indigenous American food delivery system.

I’m replacing masa with milled barley. I’m using a super fatty organic beef short rib and basting that motherfucker in a British berry and maple glaze with gin-reminiscent juniper. Then I’m braising off some heavy-duty English Savoy cabbage in the jus from the short rib and butter — it’ll be a crunchy umami bomb when I’m done. As the coup de grâce, I’m grabbing a super crumbly and funky English Stilton and sprinkling it on top. It’s the taco you know and love with a wholly new flavor profile.

The Meat

Zach Johnston

Zach’s back with his sous vide for this one, folks. I went to the butcher and got a one-and-half-pound chunk of short rib. You better believe it’s bone in.

I generously salt and pepper the whole thing with Alpine salt and freshly cracked black and white pepper. I then grab fresh sprigs of rosemary, thyme, bay, and sage and put everything into a vacuum seal bag and suck all that air out of it.

Zach Johnston

I place the rib in the water bath for 24 hours on 158F. That’s it.

I’m going for that point where the meat can still be sliced into pieces but falls apart very easily. Not quiet stringy but on the verge. You don’t want it too soft.

The Glaze

Zach Johnston

My berry glaze is pretty straightforward. I dump about one-half cup each fresh blackberries and fresh redcurrants into a small saucepan. I add another half-cup of each apple cider vinegar and grade A maple syrup (I was out of honey). I add a pinch of salt and a few juniper berries.

I bring that to a simmer and use a spoon over time to mash the berries down until about 2/3 of the volume is simmered down. I then use a hand blender to smooth it into a glaze. You should have about half a cup of glaze at the end.

Zach Johnston

About a half-an-hour before the rib is done in the sous vide, I crank my oven up to its highest setting to warm up. When the short rib is done, I fish it out of the water bath. I remove the bits of herbs and pat it dry then place it in a skillet. I use a food brush to completely cover the rib in the glaze. It’ll take about half of the glaze. I save the rest for later.

Zach Johnston

I place the short rib into the oven for about 20-25 minutes until the glaze starts to caramelize. The berry, sweetness and fat blend and fill my kitchen with a wondrous smell.

I then wrap up the rib in greaseproof paper and tin foil and let it rest for about an hour. Basically, I timed this so my wife (Vince…) and I can have lunch together. So this is resting while I drive to pick her up from work.

Zach Johnston

Barley Tortillas

Zach Johnston

This is the pretty easy part. I went down to the local organic supermarket and bought some barley berries and milled them on the finest setting at the store.

I then used about one cup of the barley flour with maybe one-eighth cup of warm water and a pinch of two of salt. Basically, if you’ve made masa tortillas, I did the same thing here. I grab my tortilla press, an old ziplock, hot pan, and start making small barley tortillas.

Zach Johnston

I’m not going to lie. I didn’t expect this work. I had blue corn masa on hand to switch to in case the barley failed. The bet paid off. The barley tortillas were super soft and malleable. They worked almost exactly as the masa does. The flavor is drastically different. There’s no sweetness here. It’s more savory with an almost malty/beer echo. It’s really fucking good is what I’m saying.

Zach Johnston

Toppings

Zach Johnston

I take a few of the outer leaves of the Savoy cabbage and slice them into thick slivers. I then dump all of that into a little cold salt water to take some of the bitterness out.

Zach Johnston

I get out my big saucepan and melt a big tablespoon of unsalted butter and let it start to just brown. I add in the drained cabbage and toss it a few times.

Zach Johnston

I add in the jus from the sous vide bag the rib came out of. That massive umami liquid goes into the pan and I use to deglaze the butter into the cabbage. Just as the cabbage turns a deep green, I remove it from the heat. The butter, jus, and cabbage have turned the cabbage into crispy umami bombs. It’s magic.

Zach Johnston

Finally, I get open up my Stilton and it’s already crumbling. Perfection.

Serve

Zach Johnston

I don’t know if there’s anything more English than Savoy cabbage, beef, barely, and Stilton. Those things together in taco form are shockingly good.

I dig into the short rib and it falls off the bone. The fat cap peels right off without any real effort. I slice up the lean with plenty of fat still on it. Basically, I make a plate to take a photo but really, this is a make your own taco affair.

Zach Johnston

I take a barley tortilla and brush some of the berry glaze on first and then put meat on that. Next, I add some Savoy cabbage and some of the super blue Stilton. I grab a couple redcurrants I had used as a garnish for an extra tart bite against the massive funk of the cheese and umami of the cabbage. It’s goddamn delightful.

Zach Johnston

That above photo is proof of concept that barley flour does, indeed, work well as a taco shell. It’s soft and foldable without falling apart. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth perfect with a nice sweet/savory/fatty/earthiness. The Stilton was the perfect counterpoint and the crunch of the cabbage alongside the bursting tart berries. It was everything you wanted it to be.

I gotta say, I’m hooked on English tacos now. We went to bed happy.

Vince on Zach’s Dish:

If Steve’s brand is 17 different herbs, the most on-brand thing Zach has ever written is using the phrase “and now comes the easy part” before describing how he milled his own barley… to make barley tortillas with. The other thing is when he inevitably gets pissed if he doesn’t win this challenge because a reader in Ohio didn’t sufficiently respect his combination of short rib, stilton, barley, and cabbage. It’s kind of hard to judge a singular combination of ingredients we’ve never had individually. Mmm?

That glazed short rib looks amazing and I think if you’d served that and the cabbage over some potatoes for the missus and a mate named Bread you’d have a cunting good feed. You could give it one of those weird names English dishes have, like “Slimy Knickers.” Oi, pass da sloimy knickas, guv. Me an me mate Bread is wew famished.

Tenor

That stilton seems better served as dessert. And I’m impressed that you made barley tortillas pliable enough for tacos (I haven’t even mastered that with masa), but again, no frame of reference here. I feel like a date night meal should feel comforting, not artistically challenging. This is like trying to unwind with experimental jazz.

I guess it’s about the notes you’re not playing. On that note, chop up those damned currants. There’s a reason no one ever made a salsa out of whole grapes.

Steve on Zach’s Dish:

I feel like these tacos made me relate deeply to relationship Zach. I imagine him telling his Lancashire wife, “I made a dish just for you, my sweet!” and then proceeding to explain how he turned anything that might be comforting and familiar to her into some weird taco that’s secretly about him. As the author of the “Honey, you need a break so I bought us tickets to this incredible surfing spot where you can have lots of time walking on the beach while I ride the waves” playbook, I am an expert at recognizing such scenarios.

I’m also not sure that this barley tortilla did hold up. It feels a little “doth protest too much” to me. A picture of it folded like a U is supposed to convince me? Show me with a bite taken out. I’ll wait.

Okay, speculation aside, the meat is surely great (I rolled my eyes and stopped editing when I saw “sous vide,” someone please let me know if there are spelling or grammatical errors in that section) and I love berries and glazes, so a berry glaze sounds like my jam (literally). But can we talk about stilton? Seems like an odd date night call, ZJ. You know the old saying, “If you want to have wild sex, go for THE STRONGEST FUCKING CHEESE ON EARTH.”

On the ranking of “sexiest foods” I think my choices of shrimp and vodka and cream all make the top 100. Stilton is down there with anchovies and the 100-year egg. Oh and savoy cabbage.

Ultimately, I like this stuff and I like Zach’s inventiveness and I like British comfort food. And yet I can’t get myself at all excited about this taco. Not because my palate doesn’t like to experiment, but because I like my date nights to feel a little less masturbatory.

Matt on Zach’s Dish:

“I’m replacing masa with milled barley.” Stop right there, and never start again. To paraphrase comic Greg Proops on why there’s no good Mexican food in Britain, no Mexican ever said, “My people, let us leave our land of sun and flavor…”

Also, stilton on a taco? Stilton is great, but only if you want to taste nothing but Stilton for the next two fucking days. You could switch the meat out with Twizzlers, no one would know. That said, I would eat the shit out of these if I were drunk.

VINCE’S HAND-TORN PASTA (STRAPPONI)

Before our Italian comfort food challenge I had been complaining about not knowing what to make, thinking I’d already used up all my Italian comfort foods after making chicken cacciatore, ravioli, and various other grandma staples for previous challenges. Steve suggested I make “strapponi,” to which I replied “haha okay whatever shut up, Steve,” as is my standard response for most things.

But I made a note of it, and maybe a week later I started looking up recipes and discovered one on my new favorite YouTube Channel, Pasta Grannies. I tried to copy the way they made the strapponi, wrapping the pasta dough around the rolling pin and tearing it off into the water, and it instantly became my new favorite dish. To me it’s kind of like the pasta of pasta, the most hand-made version of it, with no machine cut edges. I also love the way it mixes with sauce, creating big, gooey layers of noodle sheets, almost like an Italian pad see yew.

I chose this for a date night meal because — and I’m the only unmarried one in this challenge so maybe don’t quote me on any of this — it seems to me that the root of a date night meal is cooking as a sensual act, the inherent intimacy of kneading and pounding something into shape with your bare hands and then feeding it to someone you love. I make a this a for you with a my a bare a hands! It’s familiar, it’s comforting, it makes it seem like you’re substantial and you know what you’re doing. Pasta is all love and elbow grease. And strapponi is the most personal, idiosyncratic, and delicately unique form of food.

Plus, you can’t spell “strapponi” without “strapp on” so you know you’re headed for a good night.

For the Sauce

Vince Mancini

A tomato-based sauce feels the most comforting to me, but full Bolognese seemed too heavy and marinara too boring. I sort of split the difference, where I got the kind of meat that would give it a meatball flavor but let it just mix freely with the sauce so it’d be nice and uniform and maintain the nice texture of the noodles.

  • Ground chuck
  • Pork belly (I always just get the cheapest cuts of beef and pork on offer and grind them myself but the bougie Whole Foods I went to didn’t really have any cheap cuts)
  • Celery/Onion/Carrot/Garlic
  • Tomato paste, Italian chopped tomatoes
  • Pecorino Romano (adds more flavor than parmesan, in my opinion, and yes, the pecorino part — meaning it came from sheep’s milk — is important)

This works how most sauces work — brown the meat, remove, add the vegetables and cook in the fat until soft, then add the tomatoes, paste, and browned meat and let it simmer.

A couple of specific notes:

I cubed the pork belly then pulsed it in the food processor to create a coarse grind. That went in the pot first at a pretty high heat. Naturally, that had quite a bit of fat in it so after I removed the browned pork I skimmed some off. But that rendered fat is important because when you drop in the ground beef right after, it caramelizes on the outside in that screaming hot pork fat. The effect is like when you put a meatball in an oily pan or deep fry it — Maillard city. It’s a super important flavor layer. I season the meat liberally with salt, pepper, and MSG. Also, the meat t0 tomato ratio in this is much lower than a Bolognese.

Vince Mancini

Cook those veggies until they’re aaaall the way soft and melting before you add the tomatoes — healthy squirt of paste and then the box, in this case.

Vince Mancini

Season at every stage. Simmer at least 15 minutes. It’s going to seem a little heavy, but you only want enough to just coat the noodles, so it has to be flavorful.

For The Pasta

Vince Mancini

Since this pasta is a little rustic, I mix in some semolina. It adds great flavor and color.

  • 3 eggs, 3 yolks (so 6 eggs, minus 3 whites)
  • 1.5 cup 00 flour
  • .5 cup semolina
  • Sprinkle of turmeric (this doesn’t add noticeable flavor, just enhances the yellow of the semolina and double yolks)

I mix and knead this into a dough ball and let it rest, covered, at room temperature for about a half hour or so (while the sauce simmers). Once that’s done I cut the dough into fourths.

Vince Mancini

From here you just get right up in that dough’s face and whisper “I’m going to pound you flat and then tear you apart.”

Vince Mancini

With cut pasta or ravioli I put it through the machine until I can see my hand through it. This pasta doesn’t need to get quite that thin, but it definitely still takes some elbow grease to get it where it needs to be. It’s going to stretch and thin a little naturally when you tear it off.

Putting It Together

Vince Mancini

Here’s how I set up my station. Boiling water (as salty as the sea), pan on low heat with a little butter, warm sauce.

Vince Mancini

What I’m going to do is, wrap the pasta sheets around my rolling pin, and tear them into the boiling water. I’m going to cook those about two minutes, then scoop them out with a big strainer and toss them into the butter pan. To that I add a scoop of sauce, a scoop of pasta water, and a handful of cheese. I just want a thin coating of sauce uniformly on all the noodles.

Vince Mancini

Vince Mancini

It’s important to note that it’s not just noodle/sauce. It’s noodle, butter, pasta water, cheese, and sauce. It’s all the components that add up to the perfect pasta texture.

Vince Mancini

Garnish with more cheese. It really is my favorite plate of food. Those big fat, delicately idiosyncratic noodles hold the sauce just perfectly and it’s so warm and savory and comforting and delicious. And it’s probably the easiest to eat of any pasta — all you need is a fork and you don’t have to worry about sauce flying everywhere like with regular noodles, or about breaking the dumplings when you serve like with stuffed pasta. It’s the best, in part because it feels the simplest.

If your date doesn’t love you after you make this you’re probably unloveable.

Vince Mancini


Steve on Vince’s Dish:

You are truly the best in this contest at cooking food that people can fathom and understand and you’ve done it here again. This looks great, the pasta is beautifully coated, and I’m never going to oppose a ragu or riff on Bolognese. This just feels a little like a one-hander for you. You’re doing Grind House instead of trying to reach the heights of Inglorious Basterds. As such, no one would regret ordering your dish, but would it get ordered on a date night when there are giant shrimps and Zach’s beloved stilton in play?

You pasta making is impeccable, we know that. But this sauce seems a little unfinished to me. Those carrots are still holding their shape — which makes me think that they haven’t had enough time to simmer. And the flavors just seem so straightforward and a little one note: Dressed up tomato meat sauce. That’s great and all, but is it the sort of shot that it takes to win this contest? (The scoreboard says yes, Steve. This might not be helping.)

I’d order this drunk. I’d order it hungover. I’d order it in winter and after a workout and with my family. But for a date? I like the sex you infused in the writing, but the dish itself didn’t leave me horny enough.

Zach on Vince’s Dish:

Pasta again, again. This is the opposite of Steve’s dish. While it doesn’t quite feel phoned-in per se, it does feel a bit “whatever.” Look, strapponi it a great rustic dish. Even then, it feels like a dish you make when you’re too tired to actually execute a specific cut of pasta.

I do have to give you points for the ease at which you made this dish. Compared to Steve’s frenetic cooking, this feels like a good time. The rustic ragu looked fine albeit very basic — which is okay, I guess. My biggest concern is more that it looked very undercooked. Those onions, carrots, and celery should have all melted into the sauce by the end, releasing sugars and flavor into the gravy. This feels very much like it was underdone and not quite cohesive.

I’d still eat the shit out of this though and more points for making everything sexual in your writing!

Matt on Vince’s Dish:

The name Strapponi is fantastic and so good I’m having a hard time believing it’s really Italian and not an offshoot of the penis pasta you bring to bachelorette parties. I had no problem with the dish until I saw he used carrots in the sauce. Ah, carrots! Full of sugar, but also gross! Carrots! An unpleasant snap like a bird’s leg when you bite into them raw, mushy and nasty when you cook them. Carrots! A vegetable curse! He might as well have thrown a scoop of old cake frosting in there. Other than that, looks delish.

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