Monday, February 23, 2009

a penne for your thoughts

penne alla vodka -- pasta, booze, and heavy cream; an instant classic in italian-american lore. insofar as generic italian dishes are concerned, it's one of my favorites. i see a lot of people ordering it at restaurants, and even more buying it pre-made at the supermarket, however, only ONCE have i had it prepared fresh in someone's home. how is it that a dish, loved by so many, is prepared by so few? i'm going to go out on a limb and say that people think it's too complicated of a recipe to pull off at home; they couldn't be more wrong. granted, it's not as easy as heating up jarred sauce or ordering out, but it is more economical, more tasteful, and infinitely more satisfying.

traditionally, vodka sauce is served over penne pasta, however, any stout, tube-shaped pasta would be an acceptable substitution. i usually enjoy mine over whole wheat penne, to help create the illusion of a healthy meal. tonight i opted for rigatoni, penne's more brolic cousin.

* if you halve this recipe it will be just enough for one pound of pasta, however, i suggest you prepare it in bulk and freeze some for a rainy day.

vodka sauce
enough for 2#'s of pasta

2 cups pancetta, medium dice
1 onion, medium dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 cup vodka
2 (28oz) cans whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream

fresh basil, to garnish

1. put the tomatoes and their juices into the work bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. longer pulses will aerate the tomatoes, resulting in lighter colored tomato puree.

2. sauté pancetta in a sauce pot over medium heat. render off most of the fat; CRISP IT UP - DON'T DRY IT OUT! remove from the pot with a slotted spoon; reserve on paper towel.

3. sauté onions in the rendered fat (add some olive oil if needed) until well browned; about 8-10 minutes. add minced garlic and sauté until fragrant; about 2 minutes.

4. TURN OFF THE HEAT!! add vodka and scrape up all the browned goodness stuck to the bottom of the pan. these caramelized goodies are called "fond". put the heat up to high and cook down for about 1 minute until slightly reduced.

5. add tomato puree, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes until reduced by 1/3rd.

6. add heavy cream and reserved pancetta; stir to incorporate.

--garnish with fresh basil and grated pecorino romano.

© 2009 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -