There are few things more comforting than pasta and wine.  In some form, it’s a staple combination of life the world over that dates back thousands of years.  When I was a young boy, I remember my Father buying old flasks of Chianti in “Fiasco” – the squat round bottle covered in straw.  There was this one bottle he saved, like the two in the center of the picture above.  It’s still in my parents basement………
Of course, the straw then was more a function of aesthetics and tradition than anything else,  but originally the straw provided padding and protection against the vigors of shipping.  But those old Chiantis – the staple of my parents Sunday dinners, stick out in my mind.  They form a core portion of those slow Sunday afternoons when all that mattered was pasta, meatballs and wine. 
Throughout the years,  I’ve kept this tradition alive for my family.  Sure, we juggle social calendars, sporting events, and my oldest son’s preoccupation with his first “new” car,  but we still manage to relax with “an Italian Sunday dinner” often enough. And although not a Sunday, last night presented a quiet opportunity to continue this nostalgia.

I stopped by the local Italian butcher for a few links of freshly made fennel sausage. It’s a favorite of the kids and I was intent on slicing some for the pasta.  Immediately upon seeing me, Antonio comes running from the back of the store: “Giovanni,  guess what just came off the truck right from the airport?”  ….. It was buffalo mozzarella, straight from Campania and made that morning.  I knew what tonight’s contorno would be. 

~ Caprese; Mozzarella di Bufala a mere 11 hours old ~

Farfalle con Rucola e Salsicce
1 pound Farfalle
2 Sweet Fennel Sausages
1/2 cup San Marzano Passata
3 cloves garlic, sliced 
1 package baby Arugula
Crushed red pepper to taste
Start by browning the sausages well, however they do not need to be completely cooked through.  Remove from the pan.  Add 1/4 cup olive oil to the pan and saute the garlic.  As that softens, add the tomato passata and lower the flame.  Add a leaf or two of basil.  This can all be done while the pasta water is coming to a boil.  Add the arugula to the pot and allow to wilt. 

As the pasta is cooking,  slice the sausage crosswise and return to the pot.  Stir well to ensure the sausage cooks through.  Season with salt and pepper and lots of crushed red pepper.  This dish is a nod to the southern Italian regions of Campania, Puglia and Calabria where vegetables are almost always included in the dishes and spice is ubiquitous

~ If your sauce looks a little “tight” you can add some of the pasta cooking water to thin it out ~

Finally, drain the pasta just short of al dente and finish cooking it in the pot with the condimento.  Add some freshly choped basil to the top and serve.  This is simple, comforting, healthy (it’s not much sausage!) and quick to prepare.  And it goes great with wine…….

~ Farfalle con Rucola e Salsicce ~
Of course, there was wine and it may or may not have been from Italy.  
Is Primitivo from Italy?  Is Zinfandel from California?  Are they both from Croatia?  How did they get to Sonoma?  This very topic came up recently in a Facebook discussion I was having with some readers and well, I was able to go right to the source. 

Carole Meredith, Co-Owner of the Lagier Meredith Vineyard high on Mt. Veeder, received her PhD from the University of Cal, Davis in 1977.  She is a noted geneticist and has devoted much research to the history of Zinfandel and it’s offspring.  She was kind enough to share her knowledge when the question was raised:  Is Primitivo the same thing as Zinfandel? 

“They ARE the same grape variety. But the TTB currently requires that American wine made from vines that have been propagated from vines imported from Italy as “Primitivo” must be labeled Primitivo. So we still see some US wines carrying that varietal label.
There have been at least a couple of attempts to get Primitivo and Zinfandel approved as interchangeable synonyms (just like Syrah and Shiraz, and Petite Sirah and Durif). But there is always some opposition to the proposal; based, I think, on fear that a tsunami of Italian Primitivo would come into the US labeled as Zinfandel and compete with American-produced Zinfandel.
There is absolutely no question that they are the same variety. Certainly there are some clonal differences, but look at all the Pinot Noir clones. They are all still called Pinot Noir. So far, we know of at least 5 additional names for the variety we fondly know as Zinfandel: Primitivo, Crljenak Kastelanski, Pribidrag, Kratosija, and Tribidrag.” 
As Sean Connery said in the Untouchables:  “Here endeth the lesson….”

And so it was with this pasta that we opened the 2009 Haywood Estate Primitivo.   Zinfandel sibling or not, while it was indeed similar to its genetic brethren, it didn’t quite possess the intense briary characteristics that many Zinfandels exhibit.  In the glass, the wine is a deep violet, with noted purple reflections.  Aromas of eucalyptus, lavender, and crushed red berries are prevalent.  Swirling the wine in the glass reveals long legs that slowly recede to the center of the bowl.  On the palate, the wine is bright and focused with laser like flavors of crushed red berries, pepper, fresh herbs and a toasted oak note that resides nicely in the background.  It’s a little more reserved than Haywoods “true” Zinfandels, but it’s very well done and different enough to warrant the Primitivo label.  90 points.  SRP ~ $38.  Disclosure:  This wine was a producer provided sample.

~ Very pretty Primitivio from Haywood’s Los Chamizal Vineyard ~

Tutti a tavola a mangiare!

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