July 05, 2011
Back when I joined the Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country websites, I signed up to do recipe testing, as part of the "Friends of CI" program. A few days ago, we finally recieved an invitation to take part in the program, and to taste-test a recipe that may show up in a future issue of Cook's Illustrated. The recipe was for Spaghetti al Vino Blanco.
As you might guess from the title, the dish is, essentially, spaghetti cooked in white wine. The dish also includes Swiss chard and a fairly large amount of Parmesan cheese, plus some pine nuts and seasonings. CI's stated goal for this recipe is "A simple yet unusual pasta dish that is flavorful and easy to prepare."
This recipe achieves that goal, and then some.
I can't include the recipe here, since it isn't mine to share, but I can talk about the ingredients and the preparation, show you some pictures and share our thoughts about the recipe.
The first thing you do in preparing this recipe is to saute some chopped Swiss chard in olive oil. After transferring the cooked chard to a plate, you cook some garlic and red pepper flakes in more oil, then add 1 1/2 cups of white wine and cook to reduce the wine to a half-cup.
Meanwhile, you boil some water and start to cook a pound of spaghetti, but before it is done you transfer it into the skillet with the wine reduction, add more wine a bit at a time and cook, tossing the pasta more or less constantly, until the spaghetti is done.
You then return the chard to the skillet, stir in some Parmesan and a bit of butter, then top with toasted pine nuts and more Parmesan before serving.
The recipe instructions were clear and concise, and the dish was quite easy to make. As to unusual... well, I don't know about you, but I've never made a Pasta dish that required an entire bottle of wine as an essential ingredient!
I used a sauvignon blanc for this dish, and as usual I used real Parmigiano-Reggiano instead of domestic Parmesan or the stuff from the green can. These, along with the pine nuts, imparted the dish with a rich flavor, one unlike any other pasta dish I've ever had.
We had never cooked anything with Swiss chard before making this recipe, and we found out right away that Juli doesn't like Swiss Chard very much. She loved the other aspects of the dish, and after picking out the chard and tossing the pasta with some fresh-chopped tomatoes, she had a very satisfying dinner. I liked the chard just fine, and quite enjoyed the dish.
Not being vegetarians, we both found the Spaghetti al Vino Blanco to be a bit lacking as a meal in and of itself. Despite lots of flavor and the presence of good portions of cheese and some pine nuts, we would have found it a lot more satisfying had it been served along with a pork or lamb chop, chicken, or perhaps shrimp or fish. That says more about our eating habits than it does the recipe, though. On its own terms, the recipe is quite good.
I'm not sure how much revision (if any) this recipe will go through before it's published in CI, but I think it's pretty good as is. I might make Spaghetti al Vino Blanco again as written, but more likely I'll use some aspects of the cooking technique (such as finishing cooking the pasta in wine) along with some other ingredients. Meanwhile, I'll look forward to hopefully testing out some more future CI recipes.