A Welcome (and Delicious) Red Wine Stain

Red wine stains usually send shivers of horror through hosts and hostesses.

Visions of our best white tablecloths or favorite eggshell-hued couch being ruined for life tend to torment us.

But here’s one case where the staining power of your favorite red varietal is welcomed, indeed.

Take a close look at that plate of pasta above. No, it’s not whole-wheat pasta. In fact, those noodles started out as regular beige-colored strands. Take another look. Go on. You might even notice a bit of burgundy-purple tint to the noodles. It’s not your eyes playing funny tricks on you. And it’s not my meager Photoshop abilities at work, either.

Nope. It’s the magic of Zinfandel wine. An entire 750-ml bottle to be exact.

“Zinfandel Spaghettini with Spicy Rapini” is a genius dish from the new cookbook, “Michael Chiarello’s Bottega” (Chronicle Books). The book, of which I recently received a review copy, is filled with more than 100 recipes for Southern Italian specialties by Chiarello, chef-owner of the wildly popular Bottega restaurant in Yountville.

This marks the third Chiarello cookbook on my shelf. Over the years, I have much enjoyed cooking the robust, rustic flavors inherent in them. If this pasta dish is any indication, this newest cookbook is sure to become a favorite, too.

There is no meat in this pasta dish. But you never miss it.

Spaghetti or spaghettini starts out the conventional way — cooked in a big pot of salted, boiling water. But only half way. The pasta is drained before it’s fully cooked. Then, into the empty pot goes a tablespoon of sugar and the entire bottle of Zinfandel (I used a lovely one by Rombauer Vineyards). The wine bubbles until it gets reduced by half. Then the pasta is tossed back into the pot of wine to finish cooking. As it does, the strands absorb every drop of the inky wine and turn that final shade you see.

Blanched broccoli rabe is sauteed in good olive oil with red pepper flakes and copious amounts of sliced garlic, before getting mixed into the pasta. A generous sprinkling of Percorino-Romano completes the dish.

You can actually taste the wine in the pasta. The noodles have an almost tannic, anise, peppery edge to them that’s complemented beautifully by the bitterness of the broccoli rabe and the sharpness of the cheese.

It’s a simple and surprising dish.

Even better, the only lasting stain it will make is the one in your memory of just how wonderful it is.

Meet Michael Chiarello: The chef will be signing copies of his book at various events around the Bay Area. Oct. 19, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., he’ll appear at a free event at Draeger’s San Mateo. Sample tastes of his recipes, and sip wines from Chiarello Family Vineyards, which will be available for purchase and signing. The next day, Oct. 20, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., meet Chiarello at another free event at Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco.

Zinfandel Spaghettini with Spicy Rapini

(Serves 8 as a first course; 4 as a main course)

1 1/2 pounds rapini (broccoli rabe)

1 pound spaghettini or spaghetti

One 750-ml bottle dry red wine, preferably Zinfandel

1 tablespoon sugar

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons sliced garlic (about 4 cloves)

1 teaspoon Calabrian chile paste or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt, preferably gray salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup grated Pecorino-Romano

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook rapini for about 3 minutes. Using a wire skimmer, transfer rapini to a baking sheet and spread it out to cool. In the same boiling water, cook spaghettini, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes if fresh, 3 to 5 minutes if dried. (Cook spaghetti for 2 minutes if fresh, 6 to 8 minutes if dried.) You’ll do the second half of the cooking in the Zinfandel. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and then drain pasta and set it aside. Return empty pasta pot to the stove.

Add wine and sugar to pasta pot. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook to reduce by half, 8 to 10 minutes. Add pasta to the pot and shake the pot to prevent pasta from sticking. Gently stir with tongs until coated, and boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is al dente (about 3 minutes for spaghettini and 4 or 5 minutes for spaghetti. Again, tasting tells you when your pasta is ready better than any clock can).

While the pasta cooks in the wine, heat a large, deep saute pan or skillet over high heat. Add oil, reduce heat to medium-low, and saute garlic until pale golden, about 3 minutes. Add chile paste, blanched rapini, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water, or more if desired. Add rapini mixture to the pasta, toss gently, and transfer to individual pasta bowls or one big platter. Sprinkle with pecorino.

From “Michael Chiarello’s Bottega”

More: My Dinner at Bottega

More: My Q&A with Michael Chiarello

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