wine week: 7 tips for cooking with vino [5 ingredients | 10 minutes]

red wine glass & bottle pasta & butter beans with red wine

A few weeks ago I mentioned my sordid past, I mean, my previous career as a wine maker. To be honest I don’t really miss my days treading on grapes and playing with yeast and barrels. Sure it was fun and I did get to work with some very talented and entertaining characters, but the truth is…. the best thing about wine is drinking it. And I still get to do plenty of that.

When stonesoup readers Erin S. and Marie both requested I write a bit more about food and wine, my immediate thought was to talk about matching food with the nectar of the grape. While you could spend a life time studying that subject, I had a look back at a post I wrote last year on my ‘rules’ for matching food and wine. And I don’t have much more to add on the subject. I mean, food and wine pairing is more about experimenting and trying things for yourself. If you’re curious for some tips to get you started, have a look through my ‘rules’ here.

But I haven’t covered the cooking-with-wine thing. So it seemed like a good excuse to declare this week wine week on stonesoup. Today we’re talking tips on cooking with wine but later in the week I’d like to answer any questions you may have about wine. Anything that takes your fancy. Now’s your chance. If you have a burning question about wine (or even a mild curiosity) please share it in the comments. Or if you’re a bit shy, email me jules[at]thestonesoup[dot]com and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Ooh, and before we get into the tips for cooking with wine, I wanted to share the results of my latest experiment. A lot of chefs and wine writers recommend only cooking with wine that you’d be prepared to drink. But like the theory of only cooking with expensive olive oil, I’ve always questioned the logic. Sure if a wine has a serious fault, like cork taint and tastes like wet cardboard I wouldn’t risk it on my coq au vin. But if it is just a bit old, like a half empty bottle that’s been banging around the kitchen for a few weeks, I see no problems in using it. After all, the cooking process is going to oxidise the wine anyway.

So like a good scientist I decided to test the theory. This time I chose a dish of white beans and pasta simmered with red wine and tomato paste for only 8 minutes or so. The wines in question were a lovely bottle of Claire Valley Shiraz that retails for about $25 a bottle and my random half-bottle of left-over wine that has been in the pantry for at least a month.

A quick taste revealed the freshly opened Shiraz to have the lovely spice and deep red fruit aromas one would expect. The ‘cooking wine’ was also as expected, flat and almost flavourless – not exactly delicious drinking but no major ‘off’ flavours either.

And the results? There was a slight difference in colour, with the beans cooked in the fresh Shiraz being slightly more purple. Flavour-wise there was a some variation. The fresh Shiraz dish tasted a little more fruity, but there wasn’t a lot in it. Both dishes were equally delicious. So happily, my ‘cooking wine’ habit will continue. Yay.

7 tips for cooking with wine

1. do keep old wine
While I don’t get down to Nigella’s level of pouring the leftovers from my guest’s glasses into plastic bags for freezing, I usually have a ‘cooking wine’ bottle in the pantry and any leftovers get plonked in there until I need to use it. While I could combine whites and red, I tend to keep them separate to give my cooking more options.

2. don’t use wine with flavour faults
If there is a really off flavour in the wine, it is likely to survive the cooking process and ruin your dish. So best not to risk wine with problems like cork taint, or brettanomyces (smelling like bandaids or wet dog). One of my worst cooking disasters ever was using a bottle of oak aged beer that tasted disgusting in a beef and beer stew – needless to say the gross flavour carried over to the food and was possibly intensified by the cooking process. Ick.

3. it is OK to use wine that you wouldn’t like to drink
See the results of my experiment above, but wine that was once drinkable but has been left opened and is now flat and oxidised, it will still be great for cooking. Just think of it as the wine has been ‘pre-cooked’ a little. I also find really cheap red wine that tastes overtly oaky and fruity may not be very enjoyable in the glass, but pop it in with your casserole and it will be lovely. As long as the flavour isn’t off, the things that make it unenjoyable to drink, won’t necessarily be a problem once the wine is cooked in with other ingredients.

4. don’t expect all the alcohol to be removed by the cooking process
I’ve always thought that the cooking process removes all the alcohol, but studies by Robert Wolke in ‘What Einestein Told His Chef’ indicate otherwise. I’m a little vague on the details but the recommendation was clear that food cooked with booze will have some remaining.

5. consider the wine style and the type of dish
Heavy tannic reds will still be heavy and tannic after cooking and sweet wines will still add sweetness. Best to have a think about how the wine will impact the dish when choosing.

6. don’t use expensive wine
When I was working for a boutique winery in the Barossa Valley, the most expensive wine retailed for $187 a bottle at the time. It was a lovely wine, rich and powerful, but in my opinion it definitely wasn’t 4 times more enjoyable than their $45 bottle. The main difference between the two wines was that the expensive wine was made from grapes from vines that were over 80 years old which made it incredibly rare – thus the price. Once you spend more than about $25 a bottle on a wine you start paying for scarcity and reputation, rather than just quality. So even if your budget does stretch to super premium wine for drinking, you’re really wasting your money and the wine by cooking with it.

7. do keep the cook’s glass topped up
Say no more really.

pasta & butter beans with red wine

[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
pasta with butter beans & red wine

serves 2

While this is wonderfully hearty & soul satisfying on its own, my Irishman though it would be even better with the addition of a pork product or two. So by all means add in some bacon or sausage or even serve with a few slices of salty proscuitto draped over.

If you don’t have butter beans at hand, please feel free to substitute in another white bean, or even a bean of a different colour.

1 cup red wine
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can butter beans (400g / 14oz)
150g (5oz) short pasta cooked until al dente
shaved parmesan, to serve

Place wine, tomato paste and beans and the bean liquid from the can in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 8 minutes or until the sauce is starting to thicken.

Add pasta and stir in until everything is hot.

Taste and season. Serve with parmesan shavings on top.


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