To my Italian friends, except for Lorenzo who said he enjoyed this and didn’t seem to be lying, you may look away.

This is adapted from the New York Times' “drunken pasta”, or pasta alla chiantigiana. It has become a favourite of our home — part of my repertoire. It takes a little longer than most tomato-based sauces to cook because it requires simmering an almost-full bottle of red wine. An almost-full bottle? Yes. The wine you don’t simmer is used with the pasta water.

We serve this pasta with small crispy pieces of guanciale, the cheek of the pig. It can be omitted for meatless meals, or substituted for pancetta or bacon — just make sure it’s crispy. We add the pork at the very end, when we are sitting, fork in hand; as we found that mixing it in with the sauce and pasta ensures that they all find their way to the bottom of the pan.

The dish is heavy; rich with the flavour of the red wine and the saltiness of the pork and the Parmigiano-Reggiano. The fresh tomatoes add more relish.

Ingredients

This is enough to serve two people.

  • 1 bottle of dry red wine, and another one for drinking
  • 2 x 100 grams of spaghetti
  • around 50 grams of guanciale, cut into 1-2 cm pieces — remember to cut off the skin
  • 1 red onion, cut into thin half-moons
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • if you have one, a Parmigiano Reggiano rind
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter at room temperature
  • a few tablespoons of olive oil (with note below)
  • 60 grams, or at least 5 tablespoons of Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • a handful of sweet tomatoes, halved
  • two pinches of red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh basil

Method

Step 1

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add 1 cup of wine and reduce the heat.

Step 2

Heat the pan, add the guanciale, and let it sizzle in its own fat. Keep an eye on it and stir it, so it doesn’t burn or char. When it’s brown and crispy, take it out carefully – keeping the fat in the pan – and pat it with an absorbent paper towel.

Step 3

Lower the heat, add the half-mooned red onions to the leftover fat, season with salt and pepper, and stir until it is nice and softened — neither burned nor crispy. If there is not so much fat, or the heat is too high, you can add a bit of olive oil in lieu.

Step 4

Add the slices of garlic, red pepper flakes, and tomato paste and stir until it’s evenly distributed. Add the bay leaf, the optional rind (it will enrich the flavours but is not necessary), and the rest of the red wine. Bump up the heat and wait for the wine to reduce by half. It will reduce faster with a pan cover. But expect this step to take the longest.

Step 5

Keep an eye on the sauce — when it starts to take shape, bring the pasta water to a boil, add the spaghetti, and wait for it to cook. Keep it al dente — it will cook in the sauce shortly.

Step 6

Reserve some of the pasta water and set it aside. Drain the spaghetti and then add it to the red wine mixture. Mix it up; let the spaghetti absorb the sauce, coating it evenly so it all turns a deep, rich red. If needed, add some of the leftover pasta water.

Step 7

Stir in about two tablespoons of Parmigiano-Reggiano and the butter and mix well. Mix in the fresh tomatoes. Have a little taste.

Step 8

On serving, add the guanciale on top, sprinkle some remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano, and garnish with some basil. Buon appetito!