Happy August! Cy and I have been on vacation. I meant to put up a recipe while we were away, but it just didn’t happen. Mostly because there wasn’t a rainy day where I’d have been inside looking for things to do…but hey, I can’t complain about good weather on vacation!
Last time I promised some summer food recipes with wine. Not just a little splash, but using at least a cup of wine for four servings and not cooking it for hours like in a stew. The idea is that you’d taste at least some of the wine’s freshness.
And I figured they shouldn’t all be chilled recipes, either, because that seems a little like cheating. I started thinking about cooking things in wine, like poaching fish or chicken and then using the wine as a sauce. Still working on that. But then I remembered a recipe I saw Michael Chiarello do on his old Food Network show – cooking spaghetti first halfway in water, then finishing the cooking in a whole bottle of red wine, finally tossing it with cooked broccolini, garlic, and cheese. I’ve seen plenty of variations on spaghetti cooked in red wine since then. But I hadn’t seen any using white wine, so I decided to investigate.
Every recipe I found online seemed to be a variation of one published by Cooks Illustrated in 2012. They also par-cook the spaghetti in water, but in the meantime boil down some of the wine to concentrate its flavor before cooking the spaghetti in the rest of the wine. I thought it was really tasty, but of course I had to change it some. The biggest change came from Cy’s saying that it would make a great base for spaghetti with clams – and he’s right, it does. I’ve included a clam sauce variation below. But I also changed the cooking method a bit, and added herbs other than the greens in the original recipe. Plus toasted bread crumbs, which give it some crunch. They’re particularly nice with the clams.
This all comes together in about 15 minutes, not including the time to get the water boiling for the spaghetti. A few things to keep in mind:
1) You need a light-bodied white wine not aged in oak and that’s not too acidic. While acidity generally evaporates when you cook wine for a while, this doesn’t get cooked for very long and you can easily end up with a sour taste. Even with the added sugar – which you definitely shouldn’t skip, although you might be tempted. And boiling down wine that’s aged in oak can definitely add a bitter taste.
2) This dish has to be eaten right away. Not only won’t it sit around, it also doesn’t keep well. I had some left over and the night in the fridge gave it a metallic taste, plus it just didn’t look appealing. So make it, sit down, and eat. Get everything else for the meal ready ahead of time so there’s not too much delay.
3) Believe it or not, the wine cooking technique won’t work well for pastas other than spaghetti. There’s something about the way spaghetti releases starch that makes this dish come out properly. So get ready to fling sauce as you twirl the spaghetti around your fork! (Unless you’ve practiced ahead of time, that is.)
Of course, I have a wine recommendation: I use Domaine de Mairan Chardonnay Classique ($13) and it turns out beautifully. And it’s great to serve with the spaghetti, too. Or, you can drink a bigger-bodied white, like Château de Clapier Soprano ($20). It’s aged in oak, which complements the dish well, even though you wouldn’t cook the spaghetti in it.
Now that the summertime wine-filled hot dish is done, it’ll be back to something chilled next time. It is August, after all!
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound spaghetti, preferably DeCecco brand
1-750 ml bottle dry white wine (not aged in oak)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano, or 2 teaspoons fresh
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 large pinch red pepper flakes
4-5 ounces baby spinach
1 cup torn fresh basil leaves (optional but tasty)
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter, softened
½ cup panko bread crumbs
1– Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.
2– Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small skillet, and add the panko bread crumbs with a big pinch of salt. Heat over medium heat until the crumbs get lightly browned, then take them off the heat.
3– In a 12-inch skillet that has a lid, heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and saute the onion along with a teaspoon of salt, the oregano, and the red pepper flakes until it’s very soft and just starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute.
4– Stir in 1-1/2 cups of wine, bring to a boil, and let the mixture cook until it’s reduced to about ½ a cup. This will take 8 to 10 minutes. (See next step after 5 minutes.) Turn off the heat and cover the skillet once the wine has reduced.
5– When about 5 minutes have passed during the wine boiling, put the spaghetti in the boiling salted water. When the water comes back to the boil, start timing – you’ll want to cook it for about 1/3 the time that the package says is the amount of time for it to be al dente. For DeCecco regular spaghetti (#12) this is 12 minutes, so you’ll boil it for 4 to 5 minutes in the water. Just before the time is up, take out 2 cups of the pasta cooking water and set it aside.
6– While the spaghetti is in the water, add the rest of the wine and the sugar, and bring the mixture up to the boil over high heat. Drain the spaghetti and add it to the skillet. Lower the heat and simmer until the pasta is cooked, another 8 minutes or so, stirring thoroughly every 30 seconds. Add some of the pasta water if there’s not enough liquid to cook the pasta.
7– When the pasta is done, add ½ cup of pasta water and scatter the spinach and basil on top. Put the lid on and cook for a minute, then stir the spinach into the pasta, along with the cheese and the soft butter. Add more pasta water if you need to, it should be a little saucy and not dry. Serve in slightly warm bowls, topped with some of the toasted bread crumbs.
For Spaghetti with White Clam Sauce
16-24 small clams, scrubbed, depending on size and appetite
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
Proceed through step 4. When the wine has reduced, add the clams. Turn the heat to very low and put the lid on the skillet. The clams should open in 3 to 5 minutes. Then remove the clams to a bowl, leaving the clam liquid in the skillet, and proceed with the rest of the recipe. In step 7, scatter the clams and lemon zest on top when you add the spinach and basil, and omit the cheese.
Top each serving with the toasted bread crumbs.