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

We made this last week, adapting a recipe for “drunken pasta”, or pasta alla chiantigiana from the New York Times. It is spaghetti, cooked in a cup of red wine and water, with a tomato sauce simmered down with the rest of the wine. We served it with crispy pieces of guanciale, the cheek of the pig. Below serves two and a half portions – for when you want a little bit extra but don’t wish to be impolite.

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.

The guanciale can be substituted for other things, of course, like pancetta or bacon. Just make sure it’s crispy!

Ingredients

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

Method

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

  2. Heat the pan, add the guanciale, and let sizzle in its own fat. When it’s brown and crispy, take it out carefully – keeping the fat in the pan – and place it in a bowl with absorbent kitchen paper.

  3. Lower the heat, add the onions to the leftover fat, season with salt and pepper, and stir it until it’s 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.

  4. Add the slices of garlic, red pepper flakes, and tomato paste and stir it until it’s evenly distributed. Add the bay leaf 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.

  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.

  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. If needed, add some of the leftover pasta water.

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

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