Saturday, November 17, 2007

I like to cook with alcohol. sometimes I even add it to the food.

I'm back. I've been absent because my latest research memo swallowed my life. Now it's done, the weekend lies ahead, and I'm free to write about vodka. Penne alla vodka, to be precise.

I have been informed that in order to make my blog more interesting, I should offer details about my personal life. You may consider the following my idea of offering details about my personal life:

I was introduced to penne alla vodka by Jake. Jake is my ex from freshman year of college. He helped me become the monster serious foodie I am today.

This blog is partially Jake's fault, because not only did he understand the appeal of a culinary career, he encouraged my interest in it. The elder son of a food writer and a book editor, Jake considered enrolling in the culinary program at Johnson & Wales himself. He's now in New York, studying forensic psychology. His blog is The Daily Jimmy. It's not a food blog, but he occasionally posts about cooking and restaurants.*

Penne alla vodka was one of the first dishes Jake prepared for me. It's quite a simple dish - pasta with a tomato-cream sauce, livened up with vodka and red chili flakes - but it tastes far fancier than its preparation would suggest. Prepare it for yourself as a weekend indulgence, or make it part of a dinner party menu and impress your guests.

Penne alla Vodka

The original recipe does have measurements, but the original recipe is in a cookbook Jake still owes me, so you'll have to bear with my usual haphazard approach. You can use vodka you wouldn't really want to drink - Poland Springs comes to mind - but do make sure you have good pasta, Italian canned tomatoes, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

(Serves four as a main course, six as a starter, and one for three days straight.)

Set a large pot of salted water on to boil. Meanwhile, melt about half a stick of butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan on low heat. Add a good dash of red chili flakes and a generous splash of vodka. Make sure you're not sticking your head over the pan while you do this, as the fumes will be eyewateringly awful.

Open a 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes. Drain off most of the liquid, and dice the tomatoes roughly. Check the pan. The worst of the fumes from the butter-vodka mixture should have dissipated. Add the tomatoes and a sprinkling of salt. Stir. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook until the tomatoes soften. Check for taste. It should be slightly too spicy. You're going to add cream, which will mellow the flavor.

By now, that pot of salted water should have hit a rolling boil. Throw in a pound of penne. Rigatoni will also work if you assumed you had penne when you actually didn't. (Please don't use macaroni unless the only other alternative involves bashing up sheets of lasagne.)

Get out a carton of heavy cream and pour enough into the sauce to turn it pink. Stir, check for taste, and turn down the heat. Get out the grater and a hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and grate a heaping pile of it.

When the penne is cooked, turn off the heat, drain off the water, and return the pasta to the pot. Add the sauce, and stir until the pasta is well-coated. Sprinkle generously with the cheese and stir again. Serve the pasta. You can add more cheese to taste at the table.

Note: I like to add torn fresh basil leaves to this pasta, but then again, I like fresh basil in just about everything.

*Jake is attempting to make money off his blog, so he'd really appreciate it if you visit and click on his Google Ads. Of course, this shameless plug works both ways: Jake, if I don't get my cookbook by the time you and Michelle tie the knot this summer, I'm holding your wedding gift hostage.


Ann said...

Yum! I've never made this... just never got around to it. I'll add this to my list of items to try.

Solomon said...

Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! Not Poland Spring vodka! ANYTHING but Poland Spring vodka!

adele said...

Well, isn't it nice to know that it's actually good for something? :P

Jacob said...

I'll hook you up with the actual measurements the next time we get a chance to chat. Like most people who use recipes I hate encountering instances where we're encouraged to add nonspecific amounts so for the best possible experience I find it's good to use defined, regulated amounts. That being said, I recommend using a whole hell of a lot more vodka then is suggested by the word splash.