Jan 20, 2010

Why Cook Spaghetti In Water When You Can Cook It In Wine?

     For 8 months in 2008/09 I lived in Florence, Italy. From September to April I ate my way through Florence, then through Italy, and eventually through 14 other countries. I think it’s safe to say it was the best time of my life.  I kept  journals and wrote in them daily. Instead of filling the pages with stories of delicious, cute, hott Italian boys or things I missed about home, I wrote about what I ate and how amazing it was. I wish I had them with me right now to quote some of it because I am sure I sounded like a school girl in love, but really… I was writing about food. What amazes me is how much I can remember about a place or time, just by thinking about what I ate. For example, say to me ‘Ricciarelli’ and I will think of ALL the things I remember about Siena, not just the cookie (as delicious as it was). Or say ‘Spaghetti dell'ubriacone’ and I think of EVERYTHING about Florence.

While living and travelling in Europe, I fell in love with streets and trees, sculptures and buildings everyday. But my true love was the food. Anywhere and everywhere I went I made sure to fully experience the country through its food. My culinary inspiration grew each day, as did waistline. I could write for days about those 8 months, but I will stick with one dish in particular for this post.

I have a long list of favorite places to eat in Florence. If you are ever planning a trip there, email me and I will fill you in on all you need to know about eating in Florence. This book was a big help. One of my favorite places is Osteria de Benci. I can’t count the number of times I went there, but I can tell you that I ordered the same thing EVERY time. Usually I venture out at restaurants that I love, wanting to experience all they have to offer. But I was too in love with this one dish. On the walk over to the osteria, I always tried to convince the taste buds in the frontal lobe of my brain to give the rest of the menu a shot and just when I was about convinced to try something new, the personified plate of purple spaghetti appeared on my shoulder with big doe eyes and I knew I couldn’t reject him. Lucky for me, I had a system down with my friends. I ordered the spaghetti dell'ubriacone (drunk spaghetti) while someone else ordered the eliche del profeta (a cheesy fusili pasta tossed with olive oil, oregano and fresh tomatoes), and another ordered the strawberry risotto (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it). I got the best of all three worlds every time.

Of all the images, tastes, and smells that pop into my head when I think of Florence, the spaghetti dell'ubriacone is near the top. I miss osteria de benci almost as much as I missed my family while I was living so far away. That is why this pasta has become one of my staples.

The first time I heard of this red wine pasta, I thought it was weird. You might think its weird too, but try it. Then as you slurp up your last drunken noodle, book your flight to Florence and have the real deal. While I can tell you how to make the pasta, I can't give you the experience of enjoying it in the city herself, which only adds to the flavor of my memory of this dish.

Just because the spaghetti is purple, doesn’t make this is difficult to make. It might seem difficult, but read through it and you will see it is actually quiet simple.

This does not do the original spaghetti dell’ubracione much justice. In Michael Chiarello’s recipe on food network, he adds broccoli rabe to this pasta. I add broccolini instead and add pine nuts as well.

Red Wine Pasta

Serves 4

•One bunch broccolini (most of the stems trimmed off)
•1 pound spaghetti
•2 bottles red wine of your liking (1 for the spaghetti to drink and 1 for you to drink)
•1 big pinch of sugar (or about a teaspoon is you wish to measure)
•1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
•5 garlic cloves, chopped (use 4 for a milder garlic flavor)
•1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (this has a mild spice, I like to add a bit more though)
•salt & pepper
•½ c pine nuts, toasted slightly
•½ c. grated Parmesan (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When the water has come to a boil, add in the broccolini, only for about 2-3 minutes. Transfer the broccolini with a slotted spoon to a colander to drain. DO NOT DRAIN, save the water to cook the spaghetti in! (if you got caught up in the steamy broccolini moment and drained it all, that’s ok. Just fill the pot back up with water).

Return the water to a boil and cook the spaghetti for 5 minutes. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water and set it aside. Now you can drain the whole pot into the colander (take out the broccolini and set aside before you drain the spaghetti!)

Return the now empty pasta pot to the stove. Add one entire bottle of wine to the pot along with the sugar. Bring this to a boil and let it boil vigorously for about 2 minutes to allow the wine to concentrate and cook down a bit.

Add the spaghetti to the boiling wine and stir**. Boil the pasta in this wine for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until most of the wine is absorbed and the noodles are al dente (almost like cooking risotto).

**Right when you add the spaghetti to the wine, cook the garlic and pepper flakes in the olive oil in a LARGE deep skillet or pan (large enough to hold all the spaghetti). Cook over med-low heat so the garlic does not burn and become bitter. Cook until the garlic is a light golden color (about 5 min.). Now add the broccolini and a pinch of salt and pepper to this. Cook together about another minute. Add ½ c. of the reserved pasta water.

When the spaghetti is finished cooking, add in the pine nuts and pour the whole pot into to the broccolini mixture. Toss together. Cook another minute or 2. Remove from the stove. Add more salt and pepper, a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if you so well please.

Buon Appetito!

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