I first experienced this dish (yes, this dish is an experience, it’s that good!) while in Tuscany.
If you’re not familiar with the Italian countryside in November, it can be quite chilly and often rainy. That might sound like an unfortunate trip to some folks. Though not to us. We prefer Italy after the tourists have departed, even if the weather is cooler, so we can live and eat and cook like a local.
On this particular trip, the sun had been lost for days and there was a constant cold drizzle. The residents in Camucia, where we stayed for two weeks, hardly spoke English. I loved that. With them, I spoke my best Italian, and for a short while, I felt like I was Tuscan, too.
During siesta, we took to the ancient walled hill-top villages of Lucignano and Cortona. For three hours the towns existed just for us. The piazzas were desolate and silent. We had the cobblestone and narrowly arched streets all to ourselves. Only the faint clattering of dishes and silverware could be heard from the medieval apartments above us. The intoxicating aromas from different kitchens wafted down to the street by the bluster of wind that was otherwise perfumed with the chimney smoke that hung heavy in the air.
In Tuscany, even the air is delicious.
It was on our drive one day to escape the rain that we came upon a small osteria outside Chianti. I’m still not entirely sure that it was open. However, we were politely ushered in. We exchanged pleasantries in Italian and were given the house wine. There was no menu. The old woman who greeted us might have also been the cook, I’m not sure. She returned with two plates of the most gorgeous colored spaghetti I had ever seen.
It was the most luxurious pasta I’ve ever had. I thought for sure I must have died and heaven was an osteria, where Jesus turned pasta water into wine, and my angel was an Italian nonna.
The pasta was cooked in red wine until it absorbed the scent, the undertones, and the glorious purple-red color. The alcohol cooked out and a slight sweetness remained. There was a buttery shimmer to the pasta and it was mixed with sausage, I think. Or maybe it was cinghiale (wild boar)? I’ll never know. I’ve not been able to replicate the dish in quite the same way since I experienced it that day outside of Chianti.
In recent years I have seen American recipes that have called it Spaghetti All’Ubriaco, or drunken spaghetti. This recipe from the New York Times is the closest I’ve been able to come to recreating that fable-like dish.
The spaghetti cooks briefly in a pot of salted water, just briefly, until it begins to bend. Then, it is submerged in a bath of red wine where it absorbs the color and flavor and where some kind of pasta magic happens.
Don’t splurge on an expensive bottle of wine for this. Also, don’t use a wine that you don’t particularly care for either – the flavor of the wine you choose is the star of this dish. A $20 bottle of your favorite type of red will do. Be sure to have plenty of wine on hand for your glass, too (But, you already knew that!).
I made this with a handful of seasonal swiss chard amidst the undulating tuscan-like hills of west New Jersey, sans the villas and siestas, and where the only Italians around me are my relatives. But, if I turn up my Andrea Bocelli playlist, uncork a Chianti Classico, I’m back in heaven’s osteria….
You can make this spaghetti by adding seasonal greens, Italian sausage, or chorizo. I’ve previously made this by adding tomato paste to the skillet which also made for an amazingly delicious combination with the wine, too. The possibilities are plenty.
This is a dish that will certainly impress your guests, and it takes about the same time to make as usual spaghetti. How great is that?! Buon Appetito!
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If you made this recipe, leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you! Don’t forget to tag a photo for me to see @chasingtheseasons on Instagram. I always love to see your creations!
Spaghetti All’Ubriaco (Drunken Spaghetti)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic (tip: Use the fine side of a grater)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound spaghetti
1 bottle red wine, like Chianti Classico
1 tablespoon butter
Handful of Swiss Chard, center stems discarded and leaves chopped
You’ll need a stockpot and a large, deep skillet. We’ll be working with both at the same time.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a deep skillet, add oil, garlic and red pepper flakes;
- Salt the pot of water when it comes to a boil and add spaghetti. Turn the heat to high under the skillet;
- Cook pasta, stirring occasionally. As soon as garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds, add the swiss chard and saute;
- When the garlic begins to turn a golden brown, season with salt and pepper, use tongs to remove the chard and set the chard aside.
- Remove the skillet from the flame and add a little more than 2 cups of wine; return to flame and let the wine come to a boil;
- Just as the pasta begins to bend — about 5 minutes or so of cooking — drain it and add it to the wine mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, adding more wine, a little at a time, as the mixture appears to dry out (like what you would do with broth/wine if making a risotto);
- Taste pasta. When it is perfectly al dente (tender, but with a slight bite) — add the butter and turn off the heat. When the butter creates a silky glaze over the pasta, toss in the swiss chard, serve immediately.
Make this spaghetti by adding seasonal greens, sausage, or chorizo. I’ve also added tomato paste to the skillet and that made for an amazingly delicious combination with the wine too. The possibilities are plenty.