A Pasta Meditation

I once knew a delightful and eclectic man who had lived a colourful youth in the sixties and seventies – a time when Melbourne grunge earned its reputation.

Living in a hovel with barely two cents to his name, he told me of the days there was nothing to eat but the herbs in his wild, overgrown garden.

From this had evolved a rich pasta sauce made entirely of wine, fresh herbs and garlic.  He had turned it into a Friday night tradition, to which I was now being treated.

Prior to this, I had only thought of herbs as a garnish or a flavour enhancement – never as a main dish.  But I was so enamoured with the sensory explosion, I had to try it for myself.

If you struggle, as I do, to keep your own herb garden alive, this can be a costly affair.  However, the rewards far outweigh the cost.

Now it has become one of my own favourite Friday night rituals, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Fresh Herb and Red Wine Sauce

The dish is less a recipe than a meditation, and as I’m no Masterchef, it probably doesn’t follow ‘correct’ procedures or exact quantities.  But that’s the point.

The beauty of it is allowing yourself to disconnect from phones, emails and blog stats (!), to focus on the task at hand, and see where the flavours will take you.  So view this as a guide rather than a formula, and feel free to get creative and vary the ingredients.

1 cup of red wine
1/2 cup olive oil

1 chopped onion (in this case, Spanish onion)

Large serve fresh (or frozen) basil leaves
1 star anise
1 small strand of cinnamon
1 strip of lemon rind
2 garlic cloves

2 strands Rosemary
6 strands Thyme
20 leaves Oregano
5-10 leaves Sage
Generous handful Coriander
Generous handful Dill
Touch of Tarragon

Heat the oil and wine in the pan.  Add onions, and simmer gently.

The quantity and combination of herbs should be balanced according to taste, and added to the pan in stages, allowing them to simmer for a couple of minutes before each new addition.  This is the order I would add the herbs:

Basil, cinnamon, star anise and lemon rind.
Rosemary and thyme (I leave stalks on and remove them later).
Oregano and tarragon.
Sage and garlic crushed together using mortar and pestle.
Dill and coriander.

Simmer until wine is reduced.

Add approx. 350 g Passata and 200g crushed tomatoes.

Simmer low until flavours are infused (15-20 mins).  Cover and leave to sit.

You know you have succeeded when the flavours are so well harmonised that it is impossible to identify the individual herbs.

Cook enough fettucine for two.  Add the herb sauce and some parmesan cheese – and your meal is ready to enjoy!


Serve with a glass of red wine (or a martini!).

Add some lamp or candlelight (a real fire, if you have one), and your favourite person.

Some fine, mellow music.

Let your tired soul be nourished for another week…

What would you add to this ritual?  Or maybe you have a favourite ritual of your own you’d like to share?  Feel free to leave a link if you have a post on it…


  1. says

    Very nice …. I always thought of most herbs as being something to be added in tiny quantities to food and then I tried a recipe (a Hakan dish) with whole handfulls of basil added to a a pork stir-fry. That was years ago and I am a convert now 🙂

    • says

      Oh, absolutely. There’s magic in fresh herbs…I always used to wrinkle up my nose at herbs, I think because they came in little bottles of dried bits. When I finally got onto the real thing, it was a whole new world 🙂

  2. says

    IT sounds divine… can’t wait to taste it. After seeing Honie Briggs pics of food in Rome which sent me hot-foot into the kitchen to cook mushroom risotto to eat with a glass of Gewurtztraminer last night, now I’m off into the garden for all these herbs.I haven’t got dill at the moment or oregano, so it’s also hot-foot to the garden centre… I shall think of you enjoying it. The photos were great.

    • says

      Oh, I’ve never had much success with risotto. (And I think I read on your comments that someone was taking vitamins to catch up with you? Ditto! No hot-footing, please! 😉 ). Love to know how you get on…I don’t have sage or rosemary, so I might try it with lemon balm, mint and some peppercorns, for difference. But the dill and coriander really make it, in my opinion…Enjoy 🙂

  3. liz says

    this sounds like such a great experience. thanks for sharing! it is definitely on my list of things to try on one of these fall friday nights. 🙂 xo

  4. says

    WHY this is just fantastic, I have all kinds of herbs barely hanging on in my garden, even star anise – and red wine and olive oil.. this is something i simply must try.. now I need to go back up and really study these ingredients.. c

  5. says

    This looks awesome. Great pics! My favorite comfort food is my mother’s spaghetti and garlic bread, and even though she gave me the recipe, I can never quite get it the way she does. I’m almost certain she left out a crucial ingredient. 🙂

  6. Coleen Patrick says

    Looks so yum. I like the process of making something yummy and then sharing with favorite people. Your pics are great too Alarna!
    Oh but I wouldn’t eat this while watching True Blood or Vampire Diaries 😉

  7. Ralph says

    Hi Alarna. You asked what I would add to this ritual. I would say nothing except the beautiful Melbourne cook.:D I am going for plus points here. Hugs Ralph x

  8. says

    It was a pleasure and meditation reading (and viewing) this recipe – a feast in itself. I have no Friday night ritual as such but occasionally our family does make-your-own-pizza night. I love the creativity, and even the mess, as we all ponder what we’ll put on and ‘oooh’ at what others choose.

    • says

      Make your-own-pizza-night sounds great! Growing up, we used to have get-your-own-night, but somehow, this sounds much more creative and fun 😉 Glad you enjoyed the ‘virtual’ feast!

  9. lynnkelleyauthor says

    Oh, this sounds so delicious and nutritious! Not only that, the way you wrote about it adds a special ambiance! Well done, Alarna! Yum!

  10. Deliberately Delicious says

    This post is a meditation on the beauty of simple food. Mouthwatering! One question, though: what is Passatta? Is it tomato paste? I’d hate to get that ingredient wrong:) Thanks for the lovely post!

    • says

      Thanks, Sally, a pleasure to share! Passata is basically just tomato puree (as opposed to paste, which is concentrated). A standard pasta sauce would work fine too, in which case, you could leave out the canned tomato. I simply prefer the mix of passata and canned tomatoes as I find the consistency of ready made pasta sauce a little thick. But it’s really up to personal taste.

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