Restaurant-goers and home chefs alike are becoming conscious of the beauty of a good food and wine pairing. A true gourmand should think of wine as an ingredient in the meal rather than just an accompaniment and, in doing so, find magical results. Instead of making random wine selections for your meals, take a few minutes to ask questions to find the perfect match. If that's too much trouble, or you're worried about making mistakes, here's a recipe and wine pairing guaranteed to work its wiles on you.
From the time I was little—too impatient to wait the allotted three hours for Nana's spaghetti sauce so that I'd have to sneak a ladleful and burn my tongue—I've adored good pasta. As I've gotten older and the commute longer, a dish that can be ready in less than 30 minutes becomes appealing.
Such is the case with Pasta Puttanesca, one of my quickest and tastiest meals. I came upon it by chance about five years ago, stopping mid-click to hear Martha Stewart discussing the history of the pasta, which originated in Naples. Prostitutes would make the dish to entice customers into their doorways, lured by the heady scent of garlic and anchovies hanging in the air. They also chose the dish because the ingredients are often on hand in any Italian pantry and are generally inexpensive.
Since then, I've prepared it to impress dates, for groups of friends and for a large family gathering last Christmas—my brother videotaping the whole process in honor of my Food Network dreams. Pasta Puttanesca also showed up in a few of the Lemony Snicket books, as when the orphaned Baudelaire children had to cook for evil Count Olaf and his troop of actor friends. But you can make your own memories.
Now, on to the wine…
When making a meal, it can be fun to stick to a theme. So, if you're cooking Italian food, why not drink wine from the same country? Keeping all the ingredients from a similar locale is one way to make sure your pairing will be a good one. This time you don't even have to choose red or white because your bowl of noodles goes with either. Have a bottle of each to experiment with what you like best.
Due to the acidity in the tomatoes, a crisp white wine can match well with the sauce. In addition, the citrus flavors that often come forth in such wines can highlight the saltiness of the anchovies and capers. Several Italian whites are available other than the overdone and sometimes overpriced Pinot Grigio, so branch out. Grab a bottle of Soave, which can be similar to a flinty Chablis; Orvieto, often clean and crisp; or Tocai Friuliano, which is light and floral—the Venica is approximately $25. Or if you can't find a good Italian white—which may be the case—try an Oregon Pinot Gris: King Estate should be about $16.
Many Italian reds also have fair levels of acidity, which can balance that of the Puttanesca. For instance, Barbera has some of the highest naturally occurring levels. Other red options include a Primitivo, from the same grape as Zinfandel and often described as having spicy cherry flavors. Valpolicella is another option as it's usually light and fruity with good acidity; the Mazzi runs around $20. Again, you can try an American version and go with the slightly spicy Ferrari-Carano Sangiovese for about $30.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 anchovy fillets, drained
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper fl akes
48-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
20 (ish) black olives (such as calamata), coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons capers, drained few turns of freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti, al dente
Handful each of fresh parsley, basil, & oregano, roughly chopped
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Romano
Get a pot of water boiling for the spaghetti, so it will be ready at about the same time as the sauce. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. Then put in the anchovies, separating with a fork. Add garlic and pepper flakes. Sauté until garlic is tender—for a couple of minutes. Drain in the juice from the tomatoes to avoid burning the garlic. Stir. Then mix in 2/3 of the tomatoes, squishing them between your fingers as you go (the best part about making this other than the mouth-watering smells). Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Throw in the olives, capers, rest of the tomatoes and half the herbs. Cook about 5 minutes longer.
Toss the finished product with cooked pasta. Then portion out, top with more herbs and cheese and serve with some crusty baguettes to sop up the sauce.