March 22, 2012

Wine and Dine

Things to eat when it's blustery and rainy out:  this red wine spaghetti. 

Isn't it pretty?  That tangle of deep mauve noodles on the plate, punctuated with bright flecks of parsley?  Nestled in that mess are crunchy pieces of toasted walnuts, red pepper flakes and just softened bits of fresh garlic too.  But that spaghetti, actually cooked in red wine - total revelation.  It picks up a lot of earthiness and a little fruitiness and all of that brings out all the natural nuttiness of the pasta.

This is the kind of pasta you would serve friends that looks and sounds way fancier than it actually is.  Throw a little roasted broccolini, or my new favorite broccoli di cicco, on that plate and you've got quite the elegant meal.  Not that elegance is exclusively for sharing with friends or that this dinner isn't perfectly appropriate for say, a Wednesday night dinner either.  Because that's just how this plate went down.  On  a weeknight.  Just D and I.  Paired up with what remained of the bottle of red wine.

But let me not throw you out into the world of cooking pasta in red wine without a few ground rules.  You must, I mean must, use a wine that you would totally drink.  Think about it.  The pasta will be soaking up this liquid so whatever flavor the wine has, it's sure to impart some of that to the finished dish. Something in the $10 range.  Something like Zinfandel or Merlot - think less dry, more jammy.  Bonus if you only make a half recipe like I did, because then you have the other half of the bottle to enjoy with dinner.  Also, don't try to fancy this up and use fresh pasta.  It's cooking time is too brief for the red wine to do it's magic.  Just buy a good quality brand of dry pasta.  Lastly, this is a really simple recipe where each ingredient shares in the spotlight, so you know, use the good quality stuff.

Red Wine Spaghetti with Walnuts
Adapted from Food and Wine

A few key things with this recipe. As with most sauceless pastas, this was best when eaten immediately after making, the leftovers just didn't pop. Also, use a wine you would drink. It dosen't have to be fancy, something in the $10 range maybe. Since the pasta soaks up a considerable amount of the wine, it's flavor profile will obviously be contributing to the final dish. I used a Zinfandel, but I think a Merlot could work here too. And if you like whole wheat pastas, a good quality brand could translate well here adding something a little more nutty and toothsome.

4-6 servings

5 cups water
3 1/4 cups dry red wine
3/4 pound dry spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
a big handful of walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup grated Grana Padano cheese, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper

In a saucepan, combine the water with 3 cups of the wine and a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and red pepper and season with salt.Cook over moderate heat for 1 minute. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of wine and the reserved cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Stir in the pasta and cook until the liquid is nearly absorbed, 2 minutes. Add the parsley, nuts, the 1/2 cup of cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and toss. Season the pasta with salt and pepper and serve, passing grated cheese at the table.

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