My secret sauce for pairing wine with food is, well, sauce! It’s a particularly handy approach to bring red wine together with dishes that are meatless. Plus, sauce has the ability to nurture us in times of trouble. Whether it’s the creamy comfort of a melty cheese base reassuringly enveloping tubes of macaroni, or a vibrant red concoction clinging to long strands of spaghetti, sauce gives us sustenance when we are hungry for better times. Let’s talk about one of the less common sauces – puttanesca – and pairing it with red wine.
Of Italian origin, puttanesca sauce is composed of capers, olives, anchovies, crushed red peppers, garlic, and tomatoes. All those briny, spicy, umami flavors are a wake-up call for the taste buds. While devouring the following preparation, the mouth fills with sensations of mild chili heat countered by the cool creaminess of the cheese.
Serving Puttanesca Sauce
Traditionally, puttanesca sauce is served over spaghetti. Recently, however, it was served to us at Seattle restaurant, Tilikum Place Cafe, as a starter course. The shallow bowl delivered to our table had a base layer of slightly warmed up puttanesca. Then, in the center of the bowl was a glistening white orb of burrata cheese. The captivating thing about burrata is how it looks like ordinary mozzarella yet exudes a creamy white filling when cut open. It’s a gratifying effect similar to tucking into a perfectly cooked poached egg and watching the yolk ooze out. The crusty grilled bread served alongside provided an excellent carrier for the sauce and burrata combination, each bite delivering a celebration of textures and flavors.
I have since served this preparation at home. While Puttanesca can be made with pantry items, dinner sometimes needs to be quick and easy without sacrificing flavor. So, I went to my local grocery store and purchased a jar of Puttanesca sauce, a container of burrata, and a baguette. Fortunately, all these items are available in the Seattle area. When assembling the dish, simply heat up the sauce without serving it too hot. If it’s too hot, it will unnecessarily melt the cheese.
Alternative Uses for Puttanesca Sauce
As mentioned earlier, puttanesca is typically served with pasta.
An alternative method of serving the sauce is atop chicken. Remember, we’re pairing puttanesca sauce with the wine, not the protein. So ignore that age old rule of only serving red wine with red meat!
If you want to hold the chicken, substitute grilled eggplant.
Pairing Puttanesca Sauce with Wine
The sauce is said to have originated in Naples. I don’t doubt it. With each bite, images of the Mediterranean dance in my head. Not a bad place to start for wine. Pairing puttanesca sauce with rustic Italian reds such as Primitivo or Nero d’Avola would support the “if it grows together it goes together” philosophy. Just keep in mind that the peppery heat of the dish will be amplified by higher alcohol wines. If you’re trying to avoid that, either minimize the pepper or look for wines lower in alcohol.
Cotes du Jura
When we first tried the dish at the restaurant, a bottle of Cotes du Jura graced our table. This pleasant wine is a lighter bodied red composed of Pinot Noir, Trousseau, and Poulsard. It’s a bottle we frequently order because the wine isn’t bossy or trying to steal the show from the food. In fact, we enjoyed the pairing so much that we ordered the dish and the wine again on a subsequent visit.
One evening a friend joined us at home for dinner. Since we’d all traveled to Provence together years ago, our wine of choice on this occasion was a Mourvedre based Chateau de Pibarnon Bandol Rouge from that region. With that wine selection in mind, I replicated the dish from Tilikum Place Café. “Doesn’t it just transport you back to that vacation?” asked my friend. Indeed, it does.
Kevin White Winery Pionnier
The spiciness of the dish leads me to want to pair it with a spicy wine. That’s partly why I enjoy it with a peppery Mourvedre or GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blend. One of my favorite spicy wines comes from client Kevin White Winery. Called Pionnier, the wine is named for Dick Boushey, a pioneer in Washington State viticulture, and all the fruit in the bottling is sourced from Boushey Vineyards. The 2017 vintage we uncorked is mostly Grenache with some Mourvedre and Syrah. It’s another winning pairing.
If you can’t get your hands on the Pionnier, it may be interesting to explore other GSM blends. It’s hard to go wrong with any sourced from Boushey Vineyards in Washington State’s Yakima Valley. W.T Vintners or Cairdeas Winery have some fantastic offerings.