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Recipe: Simple pasta excels, thanks to red wine sauce

  • An entire bottle of red wine — some in the cooking water, the rest for the rich, ruddy sauce — goes into this hearty, impromptu red wine spaghetti meal.

For this simple pasta, you’ll need two bottles of wine — one for making the dish, and the other to drink. Since it is a traditional Tuscan pasta, you could make it with Chianti or Brunello di Montalcino, but any medium-bodied dry red wine is suitable. It doesn’t have to be an expensive bottle, but it should be a wine that is pleasant to drink.

Known as “drunken” pasta, it is called spaghetti ubriachi (or all’ubriaco) or sometimes goes by the name pasta alla chiantigiana, if it’s made with strisce, pappardelle or other wide long noodles and with Chianti.

Like other simple pastas made with pantry staples, such as cacio e pepe (cheese and black pepper); carbonara (egg, bacon and Parmesan); or aglio olio e peperoncino (garlic, oil and hot pepper), this one doesn’t require many ingredients.

It can be made without meat, but usually contains a small amount of pancetta (cured pork belly), guanciale (cured jowl) or Italian sausage.

There are, of course, lots of versions, with varying amounts of wine. Some recipes call for cooking the pasta with two bottles of simmering wine, while others call for only a cup or two.

My version falls in the middle: A cup of wine is added to the cooking water, and the rest of the bottle is used for the sauce. This way, the sauce is deep red and rich, but not outrageously extravagant. Of course, it’s all relative — if you happen to be a winemaker, use more.

The rest is a matter of softening sliced red onions in a skillet and pouring an entire bottle of wine over them (minus 1 cup, which you toss into the boiling pasta water to add a bit of color and flavor).

The wine and onions simmer together until the liquid is reduced by half, while bay leaf, garlic, pancetta and a touch of hot pepper serve as supporting players.

You’ll want to leave the spaghetti quite underdone, then add it to the skillet to finish the cooking, so the pasta can really absorb the sauce. A few minutes of stirring results in perfectly al dente pasta bathed in a ruddy red sauce. Add a handful of grated pecorino, a dab of butter and a splash of pasta water to produce a creamy consistency.

Sweet, tart and tangy, red wine spaghetti makes a hearty impromptu meal. And don’t forget the second bottle: Serve that one poured into glasses.


By David Tanis, New York Times

  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle medium-bodied, dry red wine, such as merlot, pinot noir or Chianti
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 ounces pancetta or bacon, thickly sliced and cut into 1/4-inch lardons, blanched 1 minute in boiling water and drained
  • 1 red onion, cut into 1/8-inch-thick half-moons
  • 4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • Pinch red-pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces finely grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • Basil leaves, for garnish

Put a large pot of well-salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add 1 cup wine and turn heat to low.

Heat olive oil in a wide skillet over medium. Add pancetta and let sizzle 2 or 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Raise heat slightly and add onion. Season with salt and pepper; stir to coat. Continue to cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add garlic, red-pepper flakes and tomato paste; stir to distribute. Add bay leaf and all the remaining red wine; turn heat to high. Let wine reduce rapidly by half, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.

Bring pasta water back to a boil, add pasta and cook 2 to 3 minutes less than the package directions advise — that is, keep the pasta quite firm and underdone. It will finish cooking in the sauce.

Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water, and drain pasta.

Add pasta to red wine mixture in the skillet and turn heat to medium-high. Let pasta wilt into the sauce and continue cooking, stirring, as pasta absorbs sauce. The spaghetti should be correctly al dente within a few minutes, well coated in sauce. Add a little pasta cooking water if sauce gets too thick.

Stir in reserved pancetta, butter and half the grated cheese; toss well. Taste a noodle and add a sprinkling of salt to the pan if necessary. Toss once more and transfer to a warm serving dish.

Garnish with basil leaves and pass remaining cheese at the table. Serves 4 to 6.

Nutritional information unavailable.


This Tuscan pasta is potentially the easiest pairing ever. The people who originated it drank almost exclusively locally — inexpensive wine from a local farmer or cooperative. The same wine they put into the pasta they drank at the table.

It would be easy to do the same today. I would use an inexpensive sangiovese for the sauce, like a Chianti Rufina. Don’t use a pricey Brunello di Montalcino; it would be like burning cash for show. This is an easygoing, rustic preparation, and I would prefer a good, inexpensive Chianti.

Practically speaking, use any red you want in the cooking. But drink the Chianti.

— Eric Asimov, New York Times

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