"I was so visibly excited by it, my waiter led me into the kitchen to shake the chef's hand and learn how to make it."
Every now and then the intrepid eater will encounter a dish that can only be described as mind-blowing. My first bite of this spaghetti, served at a bustling osteria not far from Florence's Piazza Santa Croce, almost made my head spin right off. I was so visibly excited by it, my waiter led me into the kitchen to shake the chef's hand and learn how to make it.
Spaghetti All'Ubriaco translates as "drunken spaghetti;" the drunk part comes from cooking the pasta in a bath of red wine. The pasta takes on a purple-brown hue and sucks up all the wine flavor, and is then finished in a pan with a bit of butter, olive oil, toasted garlic and splash of raw wine.
Man, this is good stuff. I'm talking "off the charts, eat-it-right-outta-the-pan" good, standing up, hunched over your counter—a dish you want to keep on eating until a button flies away from your midsection.
All you need to reach a similar height of ecstasy is a decent bottle or two of red wine—nothing special, just good, drinkable red wine. In Italy, this is the sort of thing you would cook with sfuso, or loose wine that is sold, fill-your-own-bottle style by the local enoteca, consortium, or vineyard. Don't blow a bottle of riserva on this recipe, but use a wine that you would not hesitate drinking.
The only caveat is in stepping over the rule of boiling pasta in a large amount of boiling water. Here you can feel fine about cooking the pasta in less liquid than you are normally accustomed to using. The proportion isn't as drastic as some of the tests in this recent New York Times article, but it is important to stir the pasta often to prevent any sticking. The overall reduction in liquid preserves the wine flavor that the pasta absorbs, and the final shot of wine in the pan concentrates it. I use one-half part water and one-half part wine. You can cut all of the proportions down for smaller servings. For a single four-ounce portion of spaghetti, I use 2 cups water and 2 cups wine.
I love this recipe because it serves duel purposes: a cool and funky primi course if you are entertaining, or a bowl full of truly yummy comfort food when you simply have to suck down some pasta in your jammies.
- 2 quarts water
- 2 quarts inexpensive (but tasty and drinkable) red wine, plus ½ cup for the pan
- 1 lb. thick spaghetti or linguine
- 2 fat cloves of garlic, or four small cloves
- 2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Peperoncino or dried red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
- 1/4 cup chopped, flat-leaf Italian parsley
Add the water and red wine to a 6-quart stock pot and place it over medium-high heat. Season the liquid generously with kosher salt and cover the pot to bring it to a boil.
In the meantime, peel the garlic and slice it. Place the butter and olive oil in a sauté pan large enough to fit the pasta and place it over low heat to slowly melt the butter.
When the water and wine come to a boil, add your spaghetti; stirring as needed to engulf the pasta in the liquid. As the spaghetti cooks, stir it often to prevent it from sticking.
Add the garlic to the pan and wait for it to come to a sizzle. Add the optional peperoncino for some heat, if you like and stir the garlic, keeping the heat low to prevent it from scorching
When the garlic is toasted pale and sizzling, add the additional ½ cup of red wine and a generous splash of the pasta cooking water to the pan and turn up the heat until the liquid simmers.
Test the spaghetti for doneness; when it is al dente, transfer it to the sauté pan along with the parsley. Keep cooking the spaghetti in the juices, tossing and shaking the pan until the liquid is absorbed.
Serve immediately on warm plates. The pasta is delicious without grated cheese, but you can grate a bit of Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top if you like.