Penne alla Vodka

As the retail world has been reminding us since Christmas, Valentine’s Day is on the way! This makes some people cringe, but I get all kinds of excited butterflies. Valentine’s Day is all about love — and not just romantic love! If you love your friends, your family, your pets, whoever, this is just another reason to let them know!

In my early teens, Valentine’s Day was spent trying to cheer up all my miserable friends in the hallways at school. Most of the THS girls spent the whole day moaning about what a stupid holiday it was, but I liked to bring chocolate and Hello Kitty Valentines and do my best to make someone (anyone?) smile.

As I got older, Valentine’s Day still meant consoling the grumps of the world…but it also meant dates! A few awkward, one fabulous surprise, two snowed in, one girls night at a garlic-themed restaurant, and on one, I even had mono! Dates can be fun, too…which brings me to this recipe. We do happen to be in a recession, and staying in and cooking can be way more romantic than a fancy dinner out.

Cooking for someone you love – this includes friends and families, folks! – is one of the biggest gestures of love there is. I love love. I love spoiling people. I like pink, too, so V-day works out well for me. Penne alla Vodka is pink! Perfect!

Penne alla Vodka
adapted from Snooth

So I always wondered why anyone invented a Vodka sauce for pasta. I read on Snooth that the alcohol brings out flavors in the tomatoes that can’t be done just by regular cooking. This is the same reason wine is added to a lot of cooking, in addition to the flavor wine adds. Good to know! Make a cocktail while you’re at it!

28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
5 cloves minced garlic
½ cup finely diced yellow onion
¼ cup vodka
¾ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 cup heavy cream
1 – 2 tbls olive oil
½ – 1/3 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (how spicy do you want your V-day to be?)
1 pound penne rigate (DeCecco is my fave!)
8 fresh basil leaves, julienned
salt and pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. When water boils, cook pasta until just before al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking process.

In the mean time, pour the tomatoes into a bowl and, with your hands, break up the tomatoes into small pieces.  Remove any skins if they were left on the tomatoes.

In a large saucepan, pour in olive oil and set to medium flame.  When oil begins to shimmer, reduce heat to medium-low, add the onion and garlic to the pan and season well with salt. Cook onion and garlic until translucent.

Raise heat to medium high, add the red pepper flakes to the pan and stir.  Pull the pan from the stove (away from the flame) and add the vodka.  Place back on the stove and add the tomatoes.  Stir well to combine.

Stir regularly as the sauce cooks over the medium high flame.  Make sure that it does not begin to burn on the pan bottom.  If the sauce appears to be reducing too quickly, lower the flame to medium.

When sauce has reduced and thickened slightly, add the cream to the sauce and stir to combine.  Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the pasta back into the pot and add ½ cup of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  Stir the cheese into the pasta and then pour the sauce into the pot.  Move the pot onto a medium flame and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir well.

Allow the pasta and sauce to sit in the pot for two more minutes, stirring from time to time.  This allows the pasta to absorb and integrate with the sauce.  While the pasta is resting, cut your basil.

Stir one last time and ladle the pasta onto warmed plates.  Dress with basil chiffonade and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano Reggiano.


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