October 26, 2020
By Bruce Neyers
Spinosi dry pappardelle pasta with freshly made tomato and cream sauce. Decanted 2018 Zinfandel ‘Vista Notre’ in the background.
One of my favorite musical pieces is ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’, a concerto-like piano composition by Sergei Rachmaninoff written in August 1934. Rachmaninoff based it on an earlier piece written for violin by Niccolò Paganini. While it’s the work of a single talented musician, a thorough read of the story behind the music explains the collaboration involved in the development of this magical piece, which was influenced by Leopold Stokowski as well as Paganini. It’s a beautiful tune, with a haunting melody that resonates for hours, and speaks to the power of collaborative efforts.
I experienced another impressive collaborative effort recently, when Barbara and I traveled to Sacramento for a shopping visit to Corti Brothers. After the usual purchase of rare selections of pasta, olive oil, spices, produce, cured meats and candies, we loaded our grocery bags in the trunk of the car, and followed Darrell Corti over to his home in nearby Curtis Park for lunch. There we met with Darrell’s long-time partner John Ruden, then sat down in their comfortable living room to enjoy a pre-lunch vermouth cocktail. After the drink we went to the table, and as usual, lunch with Darrell and John was a wonderful adventure.
We began with what looked to be a simple pasta dish — fettuccine bathed in a pale tomato sauce — but this was hardly just any sauce. After the first bite, Barbara looked at me with a warm smile, and said, “This is delicious and I need to find out how to make it.” She began grilling our hosts.
The dish relied on two main ingredients: the pasta and the sauce. The dried pasta was imported from Spinosi of Italy by Corti Brothers. It’s traditionally made, using only eggs and flour, kneaded by hand, then rolled and cut by machine. Many Italians, Darrell says, prefer it to homemade, and I can see why. The sauce was fresh tomatoes, cut up, seeded, then cooked in butter and olive oil, with a dollop of whipping cream added at the end.
I’ve never had a more agreeable plate of pasta, so we wrote Darrell after returning home and ordered two boxes of each Spinosi dried pasta: fettuccine, tagliatelle, and pappardelle. Both Darrell and John wrote us separately with instructions on the sauce, so Barbara combined their respective takes, then over the next few weeks developed a recipe. It’s copied below. She has prepared it several times since our trip. You’ll be amazed by how simple it is — and how delicious — but try it with the Spinosi pasta if possible.
I like it best with our 2018 Zinfandel ‘Vista Notre’, a low-alcohol bottling we make from grapes grown in three separate Sierra-foothill-area vineyards. Each is planted to an ‘heirloom’ selection of Zinfandel, so the crop is small, as is the cluster size. There’s plenty of flavor in the wine though, and there’s just nothing quite like the purity of ripe Zinfandel. We find a combination of blueberries, raspberries and huckleberries, mixed in with a hint of minerality from the quartz soil. It’s an easy wine to love.
Fettuccine and Fresh Tomato Sauce
Makes 2 cups of sauce to serve six
- 1/2 white onion minced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 pounds medium size fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- Torn sweet basil leaves
- Salt and pepper
- 1 box Spinosi dried fettuccine
- 1/8–1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Lightly sauté the minced onion and garlic in olive oil. Add the tomatoes, basil leaves and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and lower temperature to a simmer until the sauce cooks and thickens.
When the sauce is cooked, put through a food mill (not the fine disk, but the middle one). Cook the fettuccine. Add the cream and grated Parmesan cheese to the sauce. Drain the pasta and toss in the sauce and let bubble a bit to warm. Serve on warm plates.
If you choose to add some fresh cherry tomatoes, rinse and halve them, then sauté in olive oil over low flame until they soften.