Friday, March 30, 2007


Well, chalk up another big yum to Rachael Ray. When I returned home on Monday after a delightful vacation in Joshua Tree with my parents and A, I had just enough time to do my week’s grocery shopping before dinner. Since we’d missed the Saturday farmers’ market, I hastily tore through my cookbooks looking for recipes that could be made without the benefit of awesome fresh produce. We’re getting so spoiled by the farmers’ market’s bounty—not to mention the warm fuzzy feeling of buying locally grown, often organic, food directly from the growers—that we shy away from inferior supermarket produce (except for things like mushrooms that the farmers’ market doesn’t carry). This didn’t leave me with many options for a pasta dish. Tomato sauce sounded nice, but it turns out I have just two pasta recipes that don’t employ fresh tomatoes, and I’d made both of them recently.

Then I remembered RR’s cringeworthily titled “You-Won’t-Be-Single-For-Long Vodka Cream Pasta” (ah, see, this is the kind of cutesyness that makes people hate her), which had received a glowing review from the Smitten Kitchen and which, conveniently, is included in the RR 30-Minute Meals cookbook I happen to own. I like vodka, I like cream—why not give it a shot?

Interestingly, it turns out that the recipe posted on the Food Network site and used by the Smitten Kitchen is different than the one in my cookbook. It’s less stripped-down, with different proportions, some extra ingredients (butter, shallots, and chicken stock) and some rearrangement of the steps (adding the vodka earlier, for one thing). Most importantly, it actually calls for the traditional penne, whereas the original called for, oddly, linguine (and I’ve seen Penne alla Vodka on restaurant menus a lot more than I’ve seen Linguine alla Vodka). I’m pretty sure that the cookbook I have is RR’s very first book, so I get the feeling that maybe she’d gained some more experience and honed her skills by the time the Food Network recipe was posted—and consequently decided to make it a little more complex and (I was willing to bet) also tastier. Since I happened to have shallots on hand, for the chicken recipe I was planning to make the next night, and just enough homemade chicken stock in the freezer, I forged ahead with the Internet version.

Verdict: This pasta is dee-licious and a cinch to make. We grated a little Parmesan on top of each serving, because we love dairy overload. A gives it his stamp of approval, too. I could tell he was a little weirded out by the idea of putting vodka in tomato sauce, but as soon as he took a bite and realized it didn’t taste like vodka per se, but rather like something ineffably above and beyond just plain tomato sauce, he was pleased. Since RR’s intro to the recipe promised that when you feed this pasta to the one you love, “he or she will be yours,” I watched A carefully to try to gauge any increase (As if it were possible for me to love you even more! he now interjects) in his level of devotion to me. I hoped the magical You-Won’t-Be-Single-for-Long Sauce might at least inspire him to do the dishes immediately after dinner, instead of waiting until the next day. But he just looked happy to be fed, as always. And then he fetched me some Jo-Jos (the superior Trader Joe’s version of Oreos, with which I am currently obsessed) out of the cupboard and we spent a sated evening with cats on our laps watching 24. And that is about all the happiness I require from a pasta sauce, thank you very much.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 cup vodka
1 cup chicken stock
1 can crushed or diced tomatoes (28–32 ounces)
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound ounces penne pasta
½ cup heavy cream
20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn

1. Heat oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and shallots, and gently sauté for 3–5 minutes. Add vodka to the pan and reduce by half. Add chicken stock and tomatoes. Bring sauce to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

2. While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente.

3. When enough liquid has cooked away from the sauce and pasta is almost done, stir cream into sauce. When sauce returns to a boil, remove it from heat. Drain pasta and toss with sauce and basil leaves.

Serves: 6
Time: 30–40 minutes

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