Spaghetti All’Ubriaco (Drunken Pasta)

I like my pasta the way I like my wine, red and boozy.

Spaghetti All’Ubriaco, otherwise known as “Drunken Pasta,” is my dream dish – like, a “Where have you been all my life?!” kind of dish. It’s simple, classy, awkwardly attractive, and delicious; everything you could possibly want in a mate meal.

I was first introduced to this dish when my hubby’s colleague invited us over for a dinner party one sweltering night last summer. This friend, although fabulous in many ways, is no cook. He willingly admits to his struggles in the kitchen, yet he’s been able to glean two recipes during his many adventures around the world (Spaghetti All’Ubriaco and Chiles Rellenos) – and he happily serves them over and over again. Regardless of this somewhat limited repertoire, his intimate dinners have become a hot ticket among the Tufts Ph.D. crowd. Hosted around a small wooden table in his tiny, third floor kitchen, there is never a lack of food, wine, candles, and laughter – all of which spill late into the evening. (He has since upgraded his table to a slightly larger rectangular one and can now host up to 10 guests.)

It was at one of these dinner parties that fell in love with drunken pasta. As our host cooked, I stood curiously over his shoulder watching him plunge fistfuls of pasta into a boiling pot of red wine and heavily salted water. The pasta melted into the water and began absorbing the color of the wine, turning it slightly crimson. Just prior to reaching al dente, he swiftly transferred to spaghetti to a skillet with butter, shallots, and more red wine, swirling the pan until the sauce became thick and glossy. Into a serving bowl it went with a sprinkle of parmesan and some torn basil. It. was. fantastic. I vowed right then and there to try the dish at home.

The following day I spent the afternoon researching recipes on my favorite cooking sites. Each offered different variations of the same dish: where one site added Italian sausage, another preferred ground lamb; the same was true for oregano, parsley, and basil. One site finished their pasta with toasted pine nuts, another with a poached egg (gasp!), and a third with shaved parm. Overwhelmed by the options, I started with a recipe from The New York Times as a base, then composed a list of add-ins, herbs, and finishing touches to personalize the dish. Off to the store I went to pick up a few many, many bottles of Italian red, some meats and cheeses, herbs and mushrooms, and I was set. After sampling a couple glasses a bottle of red, I felt my inner nonna take over. (My recent online genetics tests determined that I am a whopping 0.1% Italian).

The result was an immediate success with my family and was unanimously voted into our monthly rotation. So here you are, miei amici. Buon appetito!

Spaghetti All’Ubriaco

Serves 4


  • 1 bottle of dry red wine, preferably Italian: Chianti, Sangiovese, Barbera, Montepulciano (you might as well buy 2, one for cooking and one for drinking)
  • 2 Tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1 lb. dry spaghetti noodles
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 5 oz. pancetta, diced (omit to make vegetarian)
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 4 oz. baby Bella mushrooms, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • Pinch of red-pepper flakes
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • 4-6 sprigs of fresh basil, leaves torn (divided)
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 oz. finely grated Parmesan, divided
  • Shaved Parmesan and/or ricotta for serving


1. To a large stockpot, add 4 quarts of water (16 cups), 1 cup of red wine, and 2 Tbsp Kosher salt. Bring to a boil over high heat.Once boiling, add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost al dente, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of pasta liquid then drain pasta. (Note, it should still be very stiff at this point, but don’t sweat it, the spaghetti will continue to cook on the stovetop at the end.)2. Meanwhile, add olive oil to a large skillet set over medium heat. Once oil is shimmering, add pancetta and cook until crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a plate and set aside.3. Add onion, mushrooms, and a dash of salt and pepper to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms begin to soften and onion becomes slightly translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes until just fragrant. 4. Add tomato paste, red pepper flakes, nutmeg, and more pepper. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute. Add remaining red wine and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Continue to cook until wine reduces by half, about 10 minutes. Turn heat to medium.5. Remove bay leaf from sauce, then add reserved pasta into the skillet and cook, tossing frequently, until the pasta begins to absorb the sauce and becomes perfectly al dente – this should only take a couple of minutes. If the sauce is looking too dry, add a little pasta water to the skillet a little at a time, tossing as you go.

6. Stir in the reserved pancetta, butter, half of the Parmesan cheese, and half of the torn basil leaves. Taste pasta and season with salt if needed.

7. Scoop pasta into a preheated serving bowl and top with remaining Parmesan and torn basil.8. Serve alongside bowls of shaved Parmesan and heaping mounds of ricotta for topping.And there it is, ladies and gentlemen, the pasta dish of dreams. I hope you enjoy it around a table full of friends, preferably in the kitchen, because I’m sure we could all do with a few more cozy dinner parties in the comfort of our kitchens. And more wine. Always more wine.

One thought on “Spaghetti All’Ubriaco (Drunken Pasta)

  1. Enjoyed this. Besides a wonderful recipe, this post shows that we can perfect a few dishes and not worry about serving it over and over. Friends just love being together around the table!


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