Thursday, January 15, 2009

Drunken Pasta

Although it was not "off", the 2000 Rioja Reserva we opened tonight had expired. Normally, the structure of this wine should have kept it "alive" for a couple more years. Somewhere during it's life in the bottle, it aged prematurely.

To call itself a Reserva, a Rioja is required by law to age for at least three years at the bodega, including at least one year in Bourdeax-style, 225-liter oak barrels. The tannins from this tight grained wood also increases the wine's longevity.

Wide fluctuation in temperatures will damage both the wine and cork. High temperatures (>65ºF) cause wine to lose its flavor and balance while chilling affects its aromas. Keep wines away from sunlight, heat exposure and vibrations; store in cellars, a wine fridge, or temperature controlled rooms. The ideal range of temperature for storing red wine is 50-55ºF. White wines can be stored at lower ranges at 45ºF.

Humidity is also very important. If the humidity is too high, mold can grow on wood racks and can damage wine labels. If the environment is too dry, the cork will crack and air will leak into the bottle, again ruining the wine. Ideal humidity for wine storage ranges from 60-75% RH.

So, what do you do with an "dead" bottle of red wine. Here was our solution:

Drunken Roasted Caprese Spaghetti

1 pound spaghetti
1 pint red grape tomatoes
Salt and ground black pepper
1# Italian sausage (made from ground pheasant)
8 oz. button mushrooms
1 cup Italian flat-leafed parsley, washed and stem ends removed
1 cup basil, leaves removed from stems
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
Zest of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large ball fresh mozzarella, cut into small dice

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Bring a bottle of dry red wine mixed with additional water up to a boil, generously salt the liquid and cook the spaghetti to al dente, according to package directions. Before draining pasta, reserve about a cup of the starchy cooking liquid.

While the tomatoes are roasting, start the pesto: In a food processor, add the parsley, basil, pine nuts, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper. Pulse a few times, add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, then drizzle in the oil with the machine running until it's all combined.

Crumble and cook the sausage and drain on paper towels. Brown the mushrooms and then season with salt and pepper.

Scoop pesto into a mixing bowl, add the reserved pasta water, drained pasta, sausage, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and mozzarella, and toss to coat. Serve with some warm, crusty bread alongside.