Monday, March 31, 2008

Drunk on Pasta

Today will be a change from the normal, as Ralph is writing the blog instead of Jenny.  Today I will post a new recipe that I tried Saturday night with unexpected success.  I got it out of my new cook book "The best of America's test Kitchen 2008"  I got it on Friday and there are some sweet recipes in there.  This one was called "Perfecting Penne alla Vodka."   It shows you how to avoid the common pitfalls that often ruin this dish by making it taste too boozy or too heavy.  The recipe is really simple and it only takes about 30 minutes to make.  So here it is.  

28 oz. Whole canned tomatoes, drained and liquid reserved
2   tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 Garlic Cloves minced or pressed
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt to taste (I prefer kosher salt but the book uses regular table salt)
1/3 cup Vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
16 oz. penne pasta (This noodle is great for this recipe)
2 Tablespoons minced fresh basil
Grated parmesan cheese for serving

There are a few important things to notice on the ingredient list. 

 Firstly, the vodka.  Do not use vodka you would not drink by itself.  By that I mean, if it tastes terrible by itself, it will taste terrible in the pasta.  Get the stuff that has been distilled at least 3 times.  It removes most of the extra crap that makes the vodka taste awful.  Grey Goose was recommended by the book but I am not wealthy enough to spend that much on something that I will not use that often.  I used Smirnoff to great effect.  

Secondly, the basil will only add to the dish if it is fresh.  Don't try to use dried basil.  It is just no good.

Thirdly, half of the tomatoes should be pureed in a blender or food processor.  The other half should be cut into about 1/2 inch pieces.  Then put all of them in a glass liquid measuring cup.  Add the reserved liquid until there are 2 cups of fluid. 

Lastly, the parmesan should be used very sparingly.  It doesn't need much.  The cream adds the richness and the parmesan can overpower the other flavors if you use too much. 

Now to the process.

Put on a pot of water to boil now.  Pour in some salt to season it. 

 Heat the oil in a large saucepan on medium heat until it begins to glisten.  Then Put in the onions.  Cook them until they start to turn translucent and then add the tomato past.  Cook those stirring fairly often until the edges of the onion start to turn a golden color.  Then pour in the chili flakes and the garlic.  Cook until it is aromatic and the pour in the tomatoes.  Don't let the garlic cook too long before adding them or it will start to go bitter.  Once the tomatoes are in, move the pan off of the heat for safety's sake and add the vodka.  Then return the pan to the heat and crank it up to medium high heat. Don't cover it.

I hope you didn't forget to put the water on to boil because if you did, you just doubled the time it takes to make this.  If you did put the water on, it should be boiling now.  Put in your noodles and find a temperature where the water will not go over the top but will keep a steady rolling boil. 

Now back to the tomatoes.  With the lid off, it will start to cook down.  Stir it so that it doesn't burn onto the bottom of the pan.  And if it starts to boil too vigorously, turn the heat down.  It will be fine if it needs to stay around medium, all ranges are different anyway.  Cook the tomatoes and vodka for about 8-10 minutes.  During this time, you should be checking and stirring the noodles.  When it is to the point that they are almost done, just a little substance to them, or "al-dente," strain them and reserve about 1/4 cup of the fluid incase you need it to thin the sauce. After about 8-10 minutes the tomatoes should be at a nice consistency, so add the cream.  Cook it until it is hot, and then pour in the strained noodles.  Stir them for about 2 minutes over medium heat or until the noodles are the way you like them.  If the sauce is too thick, add a little of the noodle water.  Stir in the minced basil and season with salt to taste.  Then serve it with just a little sprinkling of parmesan cheese.  Less is more with this one.  

I hope you like it as much as we did.

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