Let’s face it. When you’re tired after a long day, the best short-cut dinner is pasta with some kind of sauce.
This is the go-to easy meal in our household for filling up tummies. When my daughter was a toddler, she stayed with my parents for a weekend and they reported that she asked for ‘red’ dinner or ‘green’ dinner – it was either tomato sauce or pesto sauce. This slightly puts me to shame in terms of variety of home cooking… But then most chefs live on hummus.
The chef in me recommends that people make their own sauces from scratch. It takes scarcely any more time than a jarred sauce (it can take the same amount of time as the pasta to cook) and tastes so much better. I’ve made tomato sauce so many times that I can make ‘red’ pasta with my eyes shut.
At the very least, you must pimp the ready-made ones, so often bland and sweet, by adding a few fresh tomatoes and a minced clove of garlic or, in the case of pesto, some olive oil, extra pine nuts and shavings of Parmesan.
If you can’t even be bothered to do that, there are even easier options: crème fraîche and smoked salmon; grated cheese; or simply butter.
That’s the great thing about pasta – you can cater to your precise levels of laziness.
Like pizza, the wine matching refers to the sauce not the pasta, which is merely the carrier for the sauce. But please use good pasta, not quick cook.
I categorise pasta sauces into five families, each of which requires a different wine matching:
1) Tomato – includes napoletana, bolognese, amatriciana, puttanesca and arabiata
2) Creamy – includes smoked salmon with crème fraîche, macaroni cheese, cacio e pepe, alfredo
3) Herby – includes pesto and greens such as orecchiette with cime de rapa
4) Fishy – includes vongole, tuna
1) Tomato sauces:
The basic tomato sauce, often referred to as Napolitana or Marinara, is so simple. But it is amenable to many variations – I can’t think of a single ingredient that wouldn’t work in a tomato sauce. From bolognese and pasta alla norma to puttanesca and amatriciana, tomatoes are slightly acidic and require a full-bodied red to really complement their flavour. My wine suggestions include my favourite ‘Primitivo’, the Italian classic wines such as Valpolicella and Chianti.
Probably my favourite wine on the winetrust site, Primitivo is a southern Italian grape with high sugars and a wild berry flavour. Try this prize-winning Primitivo di Manduria Riserva 62 – a little bit pricey at £25 but you won’t regret it.
This Talo Primitivo di manduria DOC cantine San Marzano is half the price at £12.95, but delivers dark fruits and boldness. It’s even named after one of Italy’s best tomatoes, the one that all the chefs use in their ‘sumo’, San Marzano. What grows together, goes together.
Beloved of all Italian trattorias, a Chianti (in a straw bottle) is a classic with any tomato-based sauce. Winetrust stock a mid-priced Fontodi Chianti Classico for £20 made from 100% Sangiovese, Italy’s most popular grape.
If you want to really splash out on the Sangiovese grape, get the £95 bottle of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva San Polo. I haven’t tried it. Winetrust have so far declined to send it to me for ‘tasting’ (sob). It’s reported to be really special. I can’t think of a better meal than to drink this Brunello with a simple tomato, garlic and olive oil sauced spaghetti, using the very best tomatoes Sapori di Corbara (£6 a jar) and the best pasta such as Pastificio dei Campi or De Cecco. In fact, I think that would be my death row meal.
A valpolicella, using the Corvino grape, is a bit lighter than Primitivo or Chianti unless it is double fermented such as the Torre d’Orti Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso, £15 which adds extra depth and punch.
I’m growing to love Portuguese wines and I feel this Alianca Bairrada Reserva Tinto at only £7.50 would also do the trick with a tomato-based sauce.
2) Cheesy or creamy sauces
There is a huge range of dairy-based sauces, from alfredo (which authentically uses egg rather than cream to bind) to a full-on stretchy baked macaroni cheese.
The Italians are quite fussy about the combination of cheese with fish – god forbid you grate parmesan onto vongole – but I like to do a simple crème fraîche and smoked salmon sauce, which takes seconds to put together. You cook the pasta, mix the smoked salmon with a pot of crème fraîche, add a little salt and pepper, then combine with the hot pasta.
In general, white or sparkling white matches with creamy sauces. Here are a few suggestions:
Prosecco such as Prosecco Spumante Extra Dry Vallate at £10.95.
The idea of buying Pinot Grigio normally makes me groan but the Winetrust choice is, as our wine master Nick Adams describes it, a ‘grown-up’ Pinot Grigio, Ponte del Diavolo at £8.95. This would also match with fishy sauces.
For cheesy sauces such as the currently fashionable Roman ‘cacio e pepe’ (cheese and pepper) I’d recommend Sangiovese Terre di Chieti. http://winetrust100.co.uk/shop/farnese-fantini-sangiovese-igt-terre-di-chieti/
A quick idea for a sauce is my ‘egg and cress’ pasta, below.
Egg and cress pasta recipe
500g pack of good quality dried spaghetti (De Cecco for instance)
300ml tub of full fat creme fraiche
80g jar of red lumpfish roe or salmon roe
1 punnet of cress, snipped
100g of finely grated cheese (optional)
Freshly ground pepper (white or black)
Prepare a large saucepan of boiling salty water over a high heat. Put the spaghetti in and cook for a minute less than the specified cooking time. (Pasta continues to cook during the draining process.)
As soon as the pasta is cooked, drain it, put in back in the still warm pan and tip in the full fat crème fraîche mixing it (do this quickly while the pasta is very hot). Then add the roe, tossing the pasta in the sauce. Add the cheese if you desire.
Serve into bowls and sprinkle with the cress and the pepper.
Match with minerally white Italian wine Gave di Gavi ‘Montessora’ La Guistiniana, £22.
3) Herby/green sauces
The most famous green sauce is pesto, particularly from Genova in the north. The authentic way to eat this is with green beans and small potatoes. Potatoes on pasta! Double carbing! I hear the cries of horror throughout the land. But it works, believe me. Other green sauces include the Puglian orecchiette with cime de rapa, turnip tops, a kind of sprouting broccoli or say butter and asparagus.
My wine suggestions for ‘green’ sauces:
Spend £7.50 on a Alpha Zeta ‘G’ Garganega also known as Soave.
At £10.95, the fruity zesty New Zealand Lawsons Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc goes beautifully with asparagus or broccoli.
Lovers of Australian wine would appreciate this Brookland Valley Verse 1 Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc (‘Sem/Sauv’ wine, buffs call it) for £11.95. Perfect with pesto.
4) Seafood/fishy sauces
When I visit Italy I order spaghetti vongole at least once a day. I can’t get enough of it. It comes in two varieties: red or white, rosso or bianci. My preferred version is ‘bianci’ with plenty of garlic, white wine and parsley. The liquor at the bottom of the bowl can be mopped up with bread.
What would I drink with spag vong?
Chardonnay from South Africa, £23. That whole ABC thing (Anything But Chardonnay) – pfft! I like an oaky Chard and I don’t care who knows it.
If you like red and are willing to consider it with seafood, try Winetrust’s Fontaleoni Vernaccia Di San Gimignano at £11.95.Below is another quick fishy sauce to add to your repertoire. Bottarga is compressed tuna or grey mullet, which you can thinly slice or shave over pasta. This intensely flavoured and rather addictive umami booster is not cheap, but a little goes a long way.
Below is another quick fishy sauce to add to your repertoire. Bottarga is compressed tuna or grey mullet, which you can thinly slice or shave over pasta. This intensely flavoured and rather addictive umami booster is not cheap, but a little goes a long way.
Bottarga, chilli, pea shoots and lemon zest pasta recipe
Serves 2 to 4
500g spaghetti (11 mins cooking time)
Sea salt for water
100ml olive oil
1 lemon, zested
1tbsp of chilli flakes (pepperoncino if you have it)
45g bottarga, finely grated
50g pea shoots (available at Waitrose and Sainsbury’s)
Cook the pasta in boiling salty water for a minute or two less than packet time.
Strain and sling it back in the hot pan, toss in the oil.
Grate in the lemon zest (taking care not to touch the white bitter part).
Dish it up and grate on the bottarga, scatter some chilli flakes, dot around the pea shoots.
I recommend trying a Primitivo rosé with it, such as Tramari Rose di Primitivo Salento IGP Cantina San Marzano at £11.95.
5) Mushroom/truffle sauces
Another easy peasy pasta sauce is using a little truffle paste or oil with olive oil or butter and stirring it through hot pasta strands. A cheaper version is frying up mushrooms with white wine, a little salt, some sage/rosemary/bay, maybe a squeeze of lemon to finish. What wines stand up to deep foresty mossy almost musty flavours?
A light red such as Pinot Noir is a good choice, e.g. New Zealand Pinot Noir stocked by Winetrust, £20.
Alternatively, one of Italy’s most popular red wine grapes such as Barbera would work well: Barbera D’Asti San Nicolao from Piedmont at £9.75.
What do you drink with pasta? Do you have any great ideas for quick-as-a-flash, low-effort pasta sauces?