When we make this recipe again next week there are a few things we would love to change. Firstly, we want to make sure we are able to use two different types of eggplants. Secondly, our eggplant was super mushy because we did not have […]
The main component in this dish is red wine. Knowing this, I assumed that in order to prepare the best possible iteration of it one would have to use the most expensive, quality wine possible. I was surprised to find that this isn’t true at all. Instead, one should use a cheaper red wine because the pricier bottles of wine are much “too rich” (Francis). This assumption that was proved wrong really changed my perspective on cooking, and also, as dramatic as it sounds, life. More expensive does not always mean better quality, despite what we are encouraged to believe. Having a solid understanding of what quality ingredients and products consist of can better your cooking, and your bank account!
The dish I selected is called Spaghetti Ubriachi, Spaghetti All’ubriaco, Pasta alla Chiantigiana, or drunken spaghetti (Tanis). It has an enticing reddish purple hue, sometimes even a brown one, and is a fairly simple dish to make. The dish can include meat (such as pancetta, guanciale, or Italian sausage) but it does not have to (Tanis). It can be a fun dish to serve with company, and it is also known as an Italian comfort food (Depalma). Red wine is the star of this dish!
3) Chemical Analysis
An essential part of experiencing the flavor of something is not only tasting it, but also smelling it. The molecules we smell are called aroma molecules, and they are volatile (meaning they evaporate easily in normal temperatures). The evaporation of the aroma molecules is the smell we experience. Aroma molecules are mostly phenolics or terpenes. Phenolics typically taste warmer and sweeter, and they are less volatile and very water soluble. This means that when cooking, phenolics take longer to evaporate than other molecules. Terpenes have a fresh, floral, and citrusy aroma, and they are extremely volatile and non-polaar. This means that they evaporate incredibly quickly, and last a short while when cooking.
The process of winemaking is essential to understanding how it impacts this dish. Winemaking does not need starch, the way beer brewing does, so it is an easier process (at least for me) to understand. Wine comes from grapes, or other fruits, which have sugars in their flesh, or mesocarp, naturally. The skin of the grape, or the exocarp, contains terpenes, aldehydes, and ketones (all types of flavor molecules). After the grapes are harvested they are crushed, the juice released in this process is called the must and the pulp is called the pomace. The length of time the must and pomace spend together determines the color and flavor of the wine produced. After the grapes are macerated, the yeast is added and the wine begins to ferment. This is when red and white wines begin to be treated differently, as white wines are fermented at a lower temperature than red wines. The higher the temperature of fermentation the more gets extracted from the macerated grapes, this is why red wine is red in color and white wine is lighter in color and more fruity in taste. This process also impacts the aroma molecules and is why red wines are typically served warmer than white wines. After the primary fermentation the mixture is pressed to remove the skins from it and then it is fermented again. This time in order to convert the malic acid into lactic acid, which is less tart because it contains less acid. This process is called rounding out the wine, or making it softer and less sour therefore more appealing to taste. Following the fermentation the wine is filtered and then bottled. The length of time a wine is fermented impacts its sweetness, so if a wine is fermented for a long time it will be dry with a high alcohol content, and if it is fermented for a short time it will be sweet with a lower alcohol content. Additionally, one of the health benefits of red wine is the presence of polyphenols (specifically resveratrol) that can help slow aging, and prevent cardiovascular disease. Supposedly a glass of red wine a day can keep the doctor away!
Red wine has a bitter and astringent taste, due to a high concentration of tannins from the seeds and the longer amount of time the must is in contact with the pomace. This transfers into the dish, giving it a sharp, almost astringent flavor (Francis). When alcohols are used in food the length of time they are cooked decreases the alcohol content of the dish. Since red wine only has about 10%-16% ethanol, it does not take too much time to evaporate the ethanol and maintain only the flavor for the pasta. As wine is often referred to as an acquired taste, this dish is as well.
4) Cultural Analysis
Spaghetti ubriachi is “a traditional tuscan pasta” that can be “made with pantry staples” (Tanis). The simplicity of the dish reminds me of pasta aglio, olio, e peperoncino that I studied in the last integrative assignment. It is a comfort food that anyone can whip up late at night, “[coming] together in under half an hour,” but it still has enough class and sophistication to it to be served in upscale restaurants (Gollner). There is not a lot of information surrounding the origins of this dish, other than its region, but I think it embodies something we have discussed in class about ancient Roman culture’s trinity of bread, wine, and oil. In the middle ages after pasta shapes were diversified and pasta became more specifically Italian than European, I feel it joined the Roman trinity as a staple of Italian culture (Montanari). In that way, spaghetti ubriachi is the embodiment of Italian staples: featuring pasta, red wine, cheese, and Italian meat.
While researching this dish I was interested to learn how open most chefs and waiters were to divulge the recipe for drunken spaghetti (Francis). One of the bloggers who described this dish implied that she expected the recipe to be a heavily guarded Italian secret (Francis). I think the openness to share spaghetti ubriachi shows that it is a comfort food, meant to soothe, and also that it is a dish meant to be shared in a social setting. It’s as though the chefs in Italy know the beauty of the dish, and rather than profit off of its exclusivity they chose to spread the recipe. Culinary studies never ceases to impress me with how much it can reveal about a culture’s values and attitudes.
Learning about the process of winemaking was more helpful in understanding this dish than I ever could have expected. My knowledge of the cultural significance of wine in Italy, and my knowledge of the way wine is made helped me view the dish from a broader perspective. This knowledge allowed me to understand why specific ingredients are selected, and how substituting one wine for another is not as cut and dry as it may seem to some people. Also, if, as we discussed in class, the presence of wine denotes the presence of civilization, then pasta bathed in wine must symbolize a new generation of civilization. One that is settled enough to experiment with taste and flavor, and rich enough to afford the processes to create both wine and pasta — especially to the extent that drunken spaghetti can be considered a common Italian comfort food.
My knowledge of the chemical process of winemaking definitely complicating my understanding of making spaghetti all’ubriaco. I feel as though everything I learned about winemaking deepened my perspective on wine’s complex flavors, and helped me see why people are so picky with the wine they drink and how they pair it. To go from that to reading that for this dish pretty much any decent, “drinkable” wine will do, was confusing to me (Depalma). Later, as noted above, when I read that expensive wines can be “too rich” for what one wants in this pasta, my perspective on wine widened once again (Francis). My knowledge of the chemistry altered my knowledge of the culture by showing me that when wine is heavily emphasized or valued, as it is in Italian culture, that means having an increased understanding of what types of wine to use when. However, rather than types of wine simply being red, white, or rose, or from grapes that hail from a specific region, this recipe helped me learn that types of wine can mean price point and quality too. And, as I’ve stated before, better does not always mean more expensive.
Depalma, Gina. “Seriously Italian: Spaghetti All’Ubriaco Recipe.” Serious Eats, www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2009/04/seriously-italian-spaghetti-all-ubriaco-recipe.html.
Francis, Kristin. “Souvenir Recipe: Spaghetti All’Ubriaco (Drunken Spaghetti) from Florence.” Souvenir Finder, 15 June 2016, souvenirfinder.com/2016/06/14/souvenir-recipe-pasta-wine-florence/.
MONTANARI, MASSIMO, and Beth Archer Brombert. Italian Identity in the Kitchen, or Food and the Nation. Columbia University Press, 2013. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/mont16084.
Tanis, David. “This Pasta Gets Sauced.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Mar. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/03/08/dining/drunken-pasta-recipe.html.
Amisha, Rachel, Jessica, David Is there thickening/setting/solidifying due to protein denaturation and coagulation? The thickening agent is the eggs, which are beaten (or lightly agitated) and then heated. The heating of the eggs denatures the proteins in them. Since denaturation is always followed by coagulation, […]
1) Assumption I never realized how looking at the food of a culture could help you understand its history, and I definitely did not know how different Italian cuisine varies as you move from region to region. I had assumed that across the nation of […]