Pasta and Wine, Part One
By Victor Rallo and Anthony Verdoni
October is National Pasta Month. And of all the Italian culinary products, pasta best exemplifies Italy’s dynamic personality. Sauces vary as do the hundreds of shapes and sizes. All are rich in history and tradition. Pasta dishes are local and seasonal, usually easy to prepare, lively and fun. The height of pasta’s elegant artistry is manifested in its simplicity. Read on for personal recipes and pasta cooking tips to employ during National Pasta Month, and well beyond!
Pasta in Italy is always a “primo;” that is, a first course: not an entrée or a main course. Portions are generally smaller then we are accustomed to here in America, and pasta never swims in sauce. The sauce coats the pasta, which is most often finished in the sauce’s sautè pan. It is always satisfying and you still have room for a meat or fish based “secondo,” or a second plate of pasta. Variations in textures, sizes and shapes offer diversity. Pasta is at its best when served firm, or “al dente.” There is dried pasta (pasta asciutta), pasta with eggs (pasta all’uovo), stuffed pasta (eg. Ravioli, agnolotti, tortellini). Pasta is now made with grains other than flour and semolina. The possibilities are endless.
Wine or wines are always served with the pasta course. It is fun to experiment with different wines. If you are cooking with wine, use the wine, which you intend to drink with the pasta. This will enhance your dining experience. We tend to lean toward wines that are locally, geographically associated with the pasta dish: but the best rule is there are no written rules, just have fun!
Vic’s Duo of Pasta Dishes in Umbria
I love my wife, children and paddle board. After that pasta is dearest to my heart and soul. Recently Guido and Angela Guardigli hosted us for lunch and served two unbelievable pasta dishes. They were simple and created with local, seasonal ingredients from in and around the Perticaia Estate in Montefalco, Umbria. The dishes reflected the place, the hosts, the guests, the ingredients and the wines of choice. The pasta dishes were Tassatelli and Bucatini Sugo Finto.
Tassatelli is made from semolina bread, eggs, and a touch of nutmeg, manually passed through a coarse ricer. Once the pasta is prepared, it is finished with Umbrian extra virgin olive oil and local shaved pecorino cheese. The Italians call Umbrian olive oil “liquid gold.” Needless to say I had at least two plates, (my memory is often clouded while eating pasta). For the second dish Angela used bucatini, a long tubular pasta with a hole running through the center. Bucatini may be called perciatelli in other regions of Italy. The sauce consisted of tomatoes, carrots, onions, celery and Sagrantino di Montefalco wine, sort of a vegetable Bolognese. It may have been better than the tassatelli. If I had one more dish, I would have come to a more definitive conclusion.
With the Tassatelli we recommend Rosso di Montefalco DOC. It is a dry, fragrant, red wine based on the Sangiovese grape with a touch of Sagrantino. It is what the locals drink in this part of Umbria. Try a Rosso from: Arnaldo Caprai, Perticaia, Colpetrone, Scacciadiavoli or anyother premium producer. If you can’t find it, try a good Chianti in its place. If white wine suits your fancy, try local Trebbiano di Spoleto, which may be hard to find. Do not be afraid to substitute any fresh Trebbiano normale which is easier to find. Enjoy Trebbiano young.
Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage
Orecchiette pasta is shaped like a small ear. It is the traditional pasta cut of Puglia, the heel of the boot of the Italian peninsula. It has become intensely popular throughout all of Italy – and the rest of the civilized world!
Many brands can be found in supermarkets and gourmet stores throughout the United States. Look for brands like Granoro, Divella, or Riscossa, which are produced in or around the town of Corato, the epicenter in Puglia for pasta, olive oil and Nero di Troia red wines.
A pasta variation found only in Puglia, is Pasta di Grano Arso, made from toasted or burnt grains. The tradition was explained to us by Roberto Perone-Capano, owner of the Santa Lucia Winery and Estate in Corato. “After the harvest, the wheat stacks are burned. The contadini (farmers) would pick up any charred wheat berries, one by one, and bring them home to make bread and pasta. This would help them fight off poverty and desperation. This pasta has been recreated today and celebrated as a gourmet treat. It is gray in color, and tastes a little bitter, deliciously, bitter.” It may be hard to find but for pasta lovers it is worth the search.
Orecchiette are usually served in Puglia with turnip tops. These slightly bitter greens are called cime di rape. They are close in taste, fragrance and texture to our own broccoli rabe. Recipes may vary, but good olive oil, grated pecorino cheese are standard. Pugliesi chefs may add pignoli, anchovies, and/or raisins.