Not so long ago, I traveled to Sicily, to the village of Kamarina, a couple hours away from the Etna volcano. The resort hotel I was staying in was very nice and had 3 restaurants operating at the time I was staying there. Although the food was quite good overall, but I could not say it was exceptional. Probably that has to do with mass vacationing, or maybe not. Or maybe yes. Nevertheless, all restaurants were offering a rather good variety of red and white wines. Right above the Mediterranean Sea, one of the restaurants was a traditional Trattoria Italiana. In there, they did make exceptional pizzas that were freshly cooked in a wood-burning oven, and of which I had a slice or two almost everyday for lunch. Also, sundried tomatoes were simply all over the place, and as I can never get enough of sundried tomatoes in my life, I simply was in Heaven. I am still into this “World Food Challenge” thing, you know, and I can’t think of better ingredients such as sundried tomatoes and red wine to make one special challenge for food inspired from Sicily (even though I did not eat pasta as good as these ones while I was there). Here are my Red Wine Based Tomato Sauce Serpentini Pasta.
As I said, the pizzas were amazing. But on the other hand, and rather unexpectedly I must say, the pasta were kind of a disappointment day after day; if one could say they were not sensational, one could have accepted way better if available. The only real “pasta time” happiness I got while I was there was when I took a theoretical cooking class with Silviano, one of the Directors of the resort, who happened to be a real Napoletano (native from Naples) – thus a foodie. A few months ago, he decided to share with us, tourists, week after week, some traditional techniques as well as family secrets in order to successfully make pasta and pasta sauces. People from Naples, Sicily and Rome really always are participating to making their local food legendary, and this time was no exception. That lesson was very interesting, and I even took a few notes in order to improve my own technique and all. For instance, now I know that using 2 tablespoons or up to 60 ml (1/4 cup) of the pasta cooking water directly into the sauce helps the pasta catch the sauce much better (it adheres more, thanks to the starch released during the cooking process). Also, when one wants to finish cooking the pasta in a pan while coating them with warm sauce, it’s important to only cook the pasta al dente before transferring them to the pan, otherwise they’ll get too cooked and so too soft (and disgusting, and just not up to basic Italian standards – or any standard for that matter).
This short experience inspired me to “research” further about pasta once I got back home, and to up my game a little in terms of pasta sauces. In Nice, where I live in France, very near the Italian border, we are well accustomed to eating pasta of all sorts; however, we tend to stick to what we know best and rarely try out new things, which doesn’t make sense to me somewhat. So, when I got back from my holidays, I decided to try new pasta and to stop making just the regular basics. And if the Trattoria Italiana of my great Sicilian resort did not give me full satisfaction in terms of flavors, it earned its “plus” points by making me discover the Serpentini – these little curly pasta – that are absolutely delicious and that give a nice and interesting kind of firm texture, especially when cooked al dente and when gone through a final cooking cycle along with a delicious homemade sauce. Then, to my usual tomato sauce, I’ve added this time red wine to enhance the whole dish overall aroma, sundried tomatoes, black olives and peeled tomatoes too. And the pasta cooking water, obviously. And so that you know, I like to always top my pasta with good grated Grana Padano – or Parmiggiano Reggiano when available. This makes for a great healthy vegetarian option! Buon Appetito !
- Serpentini for 4 servings
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 4 to 5 sundried tomatoes, chopped into pieces
- 12 black olives, cut in halves
- 125 ml of red wine (1/2 cup)
- 1 can of peeled tomatoes
- 2 tbsp of tomato paste
- 60 ml of pasta cooking water (1/4 cup)
- 1/2 tsp of sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
- basil leaves, minced
- 2 tbsp of butter
- grated Grana Padano cheese
- Cook the Serpentini (or other pasta of your choice) in salted boiling water, al dente (usually 8 to 9 minutes, but best is to refer to your pasta package instructions).
- In the meantime, chop the onion, sundried tomatoes and olives.
- Drain the pasta when ready, and make sure you keep some of the cooking water in a cup.
- Heat olive oil in a large pan.
- Cook the onion along with sundried tomatoes and olives until fragrant (about 2 to 3 minutes).
- Pour the red wine, stir well, and simmer 2 minutes on medium heat. Do not let evaporate totally.
- Add the peeled tomatoes, dice them directly in the pan, add the tomato paste along with the pasta cooking water. Stir well to combine.
- Immediately add sugar to reduce the acidity.
- Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with basil.
- Melt the butter in the sauce.
- Transfer the pasta into the pan and generously coat with the nice tomato sauce.
- Serve warm, and top with Grana Padano for the final touch.
Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi. © 2017 All Rights Reserved.