Red wine pasta with nettle butter sauce

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Today’s recipe is red wine pasta with burnt butter sauce. Today is also our town’s patron saint day, San Leonardo, the saint who after being wrongly accused of a crime, was released from jail by an angel and ran until he heard three bells toll. He stopped and built our very pastiche salmon pink church on that very spot. Or so the legend goes…

Since it is technically a holiday today and in honour of our bubble gum-esque church (but not really), I thought it would be fun to make my own red wine pasta. Pasta making is actually a lot easier than most people think. There’s no yeast and as long as you have a pasta maker, be it electric or not, you can churn out your own sfoglia (or pasta sheet) in about 10 minutes.

The bright pink colour comes from the red wine I used to replace the water in the recipe. It might sound strange, but  don’t worry, red wine pasta doesn’t taste like a bowl full of Chianti. Instead the flavour is very subtle. You only get hints of the red wine in the background. And the flavour pairs really well with my butter sauce.

I am insanely proud of this butter sauce. A couple of months ago, I was at home with my teenage cousins. One of them was making buttered noodles with cheese, which, like most good Italians, I thought sounded disgusting. I mean, my nonna doesn’t even get up the morning for anything less than a 2 hour roasted ragu!!

I was deeply critical until my first bite. The butter had been browned to perfection and the flavour was nutty and moorish and ridiculously rich. More rich than you could ever have imagined two ingredients, cheese and butter, could be. After my third bowl, I felt a little sick, but before that, it was divine!

So when it came time to make a sauce for my red wine pasta, I didn’t want anything to overwhelm the deep oakey quality of my pasta. And no matter what other options I considered, nothing sounded better than butter and cheese… except for butter, cheese and nettles.

Giulio has been playing around with stinging nettles all this month. We have a massive crop (?) of them in our garden now that all our summer vegetables have run their course. Stinging nettles are nasty creatures. It doesn’t matter how careful I am, I always manage to brush up against one when I’m in the garden and break out in itchy hives.

Over here, they’re called ortica and they’re used in plenty of dishes from quiches to the filling of ravioli. They taste similar to spinach, but have a slightly more bitter, almost lemony flavour. There is a sense of satisfaction in cooking them after all the itchiness they’ve caused and elevate this buttered noodle dish into something a little more sophisticated.

If you can get your hands on nettles, be very careful. Wear heavy gloves when picking them. Don’t worry about the stingers. They dissolve once you’ve sautéed them and the nettles won’t cause an allergic reaction during or after you’ve eaten them. Trust me.

If you don’t feel like making your own red wine pasta or foraging for nettles, you can buy fresh pasta in any supermarket and  whip up this delicious browned butter sauce with spinach for a decadent mid-week dinner!

RED WINE PASTA WITH NETTLE BUTTER SAUCE

INGREDIENTS

31⁄4 cups tipo ‘00’ flour
200ml good red wine, Chianti or other Tuscan reds work well
1⁄4 cup fine semolina
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup packed nettle leaves or spinach
125g unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, peeled and left whole
1/2 cup grated parmesan

METHOD

Mix the flour, semolina and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the beaten egg, red wine and oil. Mix in the flour from the sides with a fork. If the mixture is too dry, slowly add water until the mixture comes together into a smooth dough. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Shape the dough into a loaf and cover with a damp clean tea towel. Slice off a 2cm piece, lightly flour and pass through a pasta machine at the widest setting. Fold the dough in half, lightly flour again and pass through the machine 5 more times, alternating between folding the dough in half and thirds. When the dough is smooth with no tears, set aside on a clean floured tablecloth and repeat with the remaining dough.

Change the pasta machine to the second narrowest setting. Pass the sheets through again. Cut in half and set aside.

Gently roll each sheet into a sausage and slice at 2cm intervals to make tagliatelle. Don’t worry if they aren’t all perfectly even. This is rustic homemade pasta after all.

Dust tagliatelle immediately with flour and leave to dry over a wooden spoon or broom handle. The fresh pasta can be frozen in trays with a sheet of baking paper between layers.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic clove and continue cooking until the butter begins to take on light caramel colour (8-10 minutes). Add the nettle leaves and stir until they begin to wilt.

Remove pan from the heat and stir in the cheese. Have a quick taste. All that parmesan is quite salty. Season to taste.

Cook your red wine pasta in a big pot of boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes or until al dente. Drain, reserving the cooking water.

Add the pasta to the pan with 3 tablespoons of the cooking water, stir and serve!

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