With a name like “drunken spaghetti” there’s a good story here. How could there not be?!
I first heard about cooking pasta in wine from a friend of a friend (and fellow baker, Stuart M.) about half a dozen years ago. My interest was piqued, but I soon forgot it when other tempting recipes came into view. “Look, an incredibly complex laminated dough that I must figure out!” Or, some such tasty thing…
But over the past couple of years, “drunken spaghetti” has popped up in a few food and wine publications. While each had their own version (e.g., only wine vs. wine plus broth or bouillon cubes. Herbs vs. no herbs. Cheese vs. no cheese, etc.) all roads pointed to Florence, Italy as the point of origin of the drunken recipe.
After trying numerous red and white wines, and all the variations listed above, I’ve settled into what I like the best. A solid, slightly fruit-forward, lower acidic red wine (and one that I would drink with a meal, not a “Two Buck Chuck” or God forbid, “cooking wine” – whatever that is.) with beef broth, red pepper flakes, garlic and oregano.
White wine just didn’t work no matter how much I wanted it to. And I found that using only red wine without broth was too bracing and “tart.” Using bouillon cubes was too salty and “odd” tasting. The recipe, below, is what I like. It’s balanced. It’s even better the next day, gently reheated.
Having just been to Florence, I went to the source, Osteria de’ Benci (pictured near the top of the page) and of course ordered Spaghetti dell’Ubriacone. I got into a passionate discussion with our info-sharing food server, and in our broken English-Italian, she gladly shared their technique. Only wine, and no broth (brodo). It tasted exactly like my earlier efforts when I used only wine. Guess what? I like my version better! The beef broth really balances out the “tartness” of the wine.
I happily share my recipe, below. Now it’s yours to play with. (It bears repeating — use good wine!). Each time you make it, try a different wine. It will be a new dish all over again.
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- 1-pound (16 ounces) spaghetti
- 750 ml bottle of red wine (good wine that you enjoy drinking. The quality of the wine greatly influences the outcome of this dish)
- 1 cup beef broth*
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 teaspoons fresh oregano, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 tablespoons Kosher (not table) salt for the pasta water
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher (not table) salt for the wine liquid
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional, but the way I like it!)
Shavings of Parmesan cheese for each dish (optional)
- Bring 6 quarts of water to a rapid boil in a large pot. Add 3 tablespoons of Kosher salt (not table salt) to the water
- A few minutes before you put the pasta in the boiling salted water, heat a 12-inch, deep sauté pan to medium-high and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- Peel and gently crush the garlic cloves. When the oil is shimmering, add them to the pan along with the red pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher (not table) salt. Cook until the garlic is lightly golden, and then remove the cloves from the pan
- Put the pasta in the rapidly boiling water and boil the spaghetti for 3 minutes
- You only want to par boil (par = partially cook) the pasta. The reason you start it in the water is A) it needs to take in a little of the salt, and B) It will finish cooking in the wine. The 750 ml bottle is the perfect amount of liquid for finishing cooking the pasta. The pasta will absorb all the wine.
- There should be no wine left as a sauce. This is a sauce-less pasta (it’s so flavorful, you don’t need a sauce)
- Prepare to work quickly for steps 5-7!
- Add 1 teaspoon of minced fresh oregano to the sauté pan
- Add the beef broth and bring it to a boil. (The broth will react to the oil in the pan, so take care)
- Add the entire bottle of wine to the pan (Yes! The whole bottle. Don’t cry, you can always open another bottle to drink with your pasta). Bring it to a boil
- Carefully transfer the par boiled pasta to the pan with the broth and wine. The pasta will still be very stiff
- Lower the sauté pan heat to medium, and continue gently stirring the pasta until all the wine is absorbed. This should take 7-10 minutes. The pasta is slow to turn from yellow to the red wine color. Don’t worry! (see note about broth at the bottom of the page)
- Turn off the heat. If using, stir in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to the pasta
- Transfer the pasta to a platter or individual pasta bowls. Sprinkle the remaining oregano over the pasta and shave Parmesan cheese over each serving (if using)