On a recent Tuscan break we discovered on a menu, Spaghetti Ubriachi, literally translated as “drunken spaghetti” but actually being spaghetti cooked in red wine. We came across it in a wonderful family run trattoria high on the hills of Montecatini Alto, where, in broken English, the waiter promised us it was made by mamma in the kitchen in the same way she has been making it for years.
A few nights later we tried it elsewhere, and a few nights after that somewhere else, but none could compare to that original dish which was rich in red wine, perfectly balanced with salt from the pancetta with the sweetness of the caramelised onions. Itching to replicate the dish we scoured the web for the recipe, finding versions of drunken spaghetti and versions of spaghetti with pancetta and red onions, but none that combined the two. Taking the best of all of these we’ve come up with a dish, which we think, is as close as we’re going to get to that Tuscan original.
INGREDIENTS (for 4 people for a main course; halve it for a starter):
- 150g diced smoked pancetta
- 8 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 3-4 red onions finely sliced
- 3-4 cloves of garlic crushed
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
- 1 bottle of red wine (preferably Italian)
- Parsley, fresh and finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a large heavy based skillet or frying pan over medium-low heat, sauté the pancetta for about 10 minutes until lightly crisped and a little of the fat is rendered. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Set aside.
Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the pan and pile in the onions and crushed garlic. Toss the onions to coat in the pancetta fat. Cover and cook, on medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes, until the onions are well wilted. Add the oregano, chilli, salt and a good grinding of pepper, cooking uncovered for about 30 minutes until caramelised and soft. You can add a splash of sugar to help with the caramelisation if needed. Stir from time to time to prevent sticking or burning.
If making in advance pause at this stage. If not, then around 10 minutes before the onions are cooked start the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta for 2 or 3 minutes. Whilst cooking add the wine to a second large pot and bring it to the boil, hold back one cup of wine for use later.
When the 3 minutes are up, drain the pasta well keeping one cup of the boiling water in reserve. Add the drained spaghetti to the pot with red wine and continue to cook for an additional 6 to 7 minutes, or just until the pasta is “al dente”.
About 3 minutes before the spaghetti’s cooked, raise the heat under the onions to medium-high, pour in the cup of wine, stir to deglaze the pan and scrape up any browned bits from the pan bottom. Let it bubble for a minute, adding the reserved pancetta. Don’t add too much liquid. This isn’t meant to be a liquid sauce.
Transfer the pasta to the pan and toss gently to combine. If needed, add a splash or two of the pasta-cooking water or red wine to loosen the sauce, but heed the comment that this isn’t supposed to be a liquid sauce, you want the mixture to stick and coat the spaghetti.
Divide among 4 shallow bowls, sprinkling the parsley on top (the dish isn’t traditionally served with parmesan in Tuscany so it’s really a personal preference but we don’t think it’s needed) and serve.