I just tried out a new method of cooking pasta: absorption cooking in wine. Specifically, a Spanish Monastrell. I found the recipe in the vegetarian cookbook Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin. Oh, jeez. I’ve already done this cookbook a disservice by prefacing the title of it with the word “vegetarian.” Do not be prejudiced! As Michael states, the mission of his cookbook is to “…rid the world of bland, beige vegetarian food.”
Eons ago, I was at an event in Seattle for Micheal’s cookbook (organized by Keren Brown aka “Frantic Foodie“) and received a free copy. Naturally, the wine guy in me was captivated by a recipe for “Peppery Absorption-Cooked Red-Wine Capellini.” Well, he had me at red wine. But it took me a shamefully long time to turn interest into action. Fortunately, my glacially-paced return to Herbivoracious was inspired by some fantastic kudos he received from The Washington Post. So I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
Right off the bat, this recipe involved something I’d never done before: toasting pasta in the oven before cooking it. This process added extra flavor without a lot of effort. (I took Micheal’s advice and prepped all the vegetables during oven preheating/pasta toasting.)
As a single guy cooking for one, I did scale back the recipe by about a third. Though I kept the amount of herbs and spices the same, as I welcome bold flavors. I also subbed red-wine loving cremini mushrooms for asparagus. After this blasphemous recipe-tinkering, I did stay on the straight and narrow. (OK, except when it came to the wine. But more on that later.) I especially appreciated Micheal’s tip to garnish the finished dish with raw tomatoes; they had a lot of natural acidity that was a refreshing counterpart to the earthy, toasty, and peppery notes. (Micheal likes using an ingredient in a dish in both raw and cooked to “experience its full range of flavors.”)
The best part about cooking this dish, however, was the wine. I’ve never cooked pasta in wine (and some water). It couldn’t be easier. You dump the wine and water into a pot with the toasted pasta, vegetables, and herbs and spices, put the lid on, and stir it every three minutes. Cooking time was about 9 minutes, though you need to start checking the pasta for doneness regularly after two rounds of stirring. Any inexpensive red wine would work for this dish. (Michael’s recommendation of a Spanish Tempranillo is a fine one). I decided to stay in Spain, but went with a wine made from the Monastrell grape. (This grape is also known as Mouvedre.)
The Castaño Monastrell is a perennial favorite Spanish red wine. It’s fun-looking on the outside and in the glass. An easy-drinking and surprisingly lighter-style red, I put it in the fridge for about a half hour before enjoying it with the finished dish. Considering all that pepper, smoked paprika, cayenne, and garlic in the recipe, a slight chill on the wine made it play nice with all those spices.
Just as Michael’s mission is to combat the stereotype of vegetarian food as monolithically benign, I’d like to beat the drum for red wines pairing well with dishes without a lick of meat. In fact, this is a vegan dish! So go forth, eat flavorful food that just happens to be meat-free, and pair it with a lively red wine. And buy a dang copy or five of Herbivoracious for
your vegetarian all your friends!