A Sunday Supper with Zinfandel Pasta
On the first chilly weekend of fall, I called up my good friend Kim. Did she want to come over for dinner on Sunday? I asked. I had recipes to practice and maybe she’d want to bring John?
I surprised myself asking that last question. Usually, when Kim and I get together it’s just the two of us. The invitation to her boyfriend came out almost subliminally. But as soon as I voiced it, I was glad I had. Although Kim and I had gone to high school with John, and although Kim and John had been dating longer than I’d been in any relationship, I couldn’t say I knew John well. Sure, I could tell you that he was an accountant with good taste in dress shirts and that one of the smartest people I knew thought he was one of the most thoughtful people she knew. But could I have told you what John did last Saturday or what he hoped to be doing on Saturdays 20 years from now? No.
But I could make Zinfandel pasta—and maybe over a meal of plump, wine-cooked penne, garlic-sautéed broccoli rabe, and salty Pecorino Romano cheese, I’d learn how John spent is weekends.
That Sunday, when Kim and John arrived, I was still cooking, so I poured three glasses of wine and invited the duo to huddle in the kitchen with me. As I cut garlic cloves into thin, transparent slices and boiled red wine into a pasta sauce, we talked about our childhood friends on the west coast and their happy marriages and upcoming weddings.
The conversation involved lots of spatula waving and little stirring. And at some point, I realized that, as usual when I have company, I’d let my talking get ahead of my cooking, and I needed help. I while toasted the slivers of garlic and warmed the broccoli rabe, I asked Kim to check the cooking pasta. But she kept talking about sunny California. That is until John, who’d been mostly quiet, nudged Kim, “Kazia wants you to check the pasta.” I smiled. So I had an ally.
That ally followed me to the dinner table, where John and I found ourselves planning Kim’s birthday gift, in front of her. We’d get her kitchen knives. And John wolfed down my tangy, wine-soaked pasta and hearty rapini, not with his nose plugged, but instead with stories about how his Chinese parents make broccoli rabe—and how he loves to order the slightly bitter, leafy vegetable when he and Kim go to dim sum. When John and Kim left that night, I marveled at my unexpected evening. I’d made a true friend over the most unusual of Italian-influenced pasta dishes.
When I saw Kim and John again, a couple of weeks later, Kim had a sparkly diamond on her left ring finger. John had traveled to the romantic west coast, purchased a diamond, and asked Kim to marry him. As I took Kim’s hand and looked at that glittering reflection of a happy relationship, I thought back to our Zinfandel pasta. If I’d tried, I don’t think that I could have picked a better dish to send John and Kim off into engagement—or to officially make me the last single girl in our group of childhood friends. Over that bold, yet super easy-to-make pasta, I’d seen a relationship that was surprising and delightful—and I’d been reminded of just how important it is to be open-minded, in eating and relationships. Sometimes it takes dating the son of Chinese immigrants to find someone who will enjoy the dark and delicious charm of wine-cooked pasta and broccoli rabe.
Serves 4 to 6
Adapated from Bottega
This impressive pasta has a secret. It’s super easy to make. While your friends and family ooh and ahh over deep purple noodles, you can pat yourself on the back. You made this supper in less than 30 minutes. If you don’t have Zinfandel, feel free to substitute another dry, red wine.
1 ½ pounds broccoli rabe (rapini), cleaned and cut into 2-inch strips
1 pound penne
1 750 ml bottle Zinfandel
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons thinly sliced garlic (about 4 cloves)
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Set a cooling rack over a tray, and in a large pot over high heat, boil water and one tablespoon salt. Add the broccoli rabe and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, remove the broccoli rabe and place on prepared cooling rack.
Return the water to a boil and add penne. Cook for 5 minutes. (The pasta will finish cooking in the Zinfandel.) Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
Place empty pot over high heat and add Zinfandel and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook until wine has reduce by half, 8 to 10 minutes. Then add pasta, stirring with tongs or a rubber spatula and breaking apart clumps. Boil over high heat until pasta is al dente and most of the wine is absorbed, 4 to 5 minutes.
While pasta is cooking in wine, heat a deep-sided skillet over high heat. Pour in oil and reduce heat to medium-low. Add garlic, and cook until golden and toasted, about 3 minutes. Stir in broccoli rabe, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Cook until warmed through, about 2 minutes.
Add ½ cup reserved pasta water. (Feel free to add more if you like.)
Stir the sautéed broccoli rabe into the pasta. Serve with grated Pecorino Romano.
For a printable recipe, click here.