Well New Years has come and gone and all thats left of the parties are hazy memories and a cabinet of leftover liquor. So what do you do with the three bottles of Stoli you were convinced would not be enough – never mind the fact that the amount you purchased worked out to like 10 White Russians or 20 martini’s a piece. The answer lies in a spicy pasta sauce originating the Bologna region of Italy. I first experienced this dish growing up in NY/NJ where it first gained popularity in America. It’s most commonly served with chicken or prawns but you could really use any protein that can stand up to a strong sauce.
I’ve written the recipe as I think it’s best but many of the ingredients can be substituted to suit different tastes or availability of ingredients. There are two exceptions: first, the vodka. Use good vodka. I’ll elaborate in a minute. The second exception is the cheese – Pecorino Romano is a sharp, salty, semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese that really makes this dish sing. Feel free to substitute parmesan cheese, or get creative if you like, but if you enjoy this dish enough to make it a second time I urge you to try it with the romano cheese and let me know what you think.
Ok, back to the Vodka. Like I said, use good vodka. This is a rule I follow religiously with all forms of liquor, beer, wine, olive oil, spices – you get the idea. To quote Papa John – Better ingredients make a better pizza. Now chances are you already have decent vodka at your disposal but if not I’d suggest rethinking why you have so much vodka leftover in the first place. My personal favorite for this dish is Monopolowa but I’m willing to bet any mid-range vodka will yield pleasing results.
Penne alla Vodka
- 1 1/2C vodka
- 1 can Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes (for extra tomato flavor add tomato paste or fresh tomatoes)
- 1 lg onion, medium dice
- 1 head garlic, minced (you could use less – but why?)
- 1 Tbs cayenne pepper (a jalapeño or other hot pepper will also work)
- 1 C heavy cream (often called whipping cream or heavy whipping cream)
- 2 Tbs butter, softened (professional chefs use unsalted – if you use salted go easy on the cheese which will be salty)
- 1/2 C Fresh grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
- Sweat the onions in oil or butter over med-high heat. Cook until translucent or even golden but do not brown or burn.
- Add garlic and saute briefly – until pungent garlic smell is noticed; usually about 30 seconds.
- Add caned tomatoes including any juice and cayenne pepper. Saute until nearly all liquid has cooked off. Stir frequently enough to prevent scorching of tomatoes.
- Add vodka and again cook until most the liquid is evaporated being careful not to scorch.
- Add heavy cream and reduce heat to medium. Reduce cream by about 1/3rd.
- Turn off heat and finish with grated cheese and softened butter (butter is optional but will add richness and sheen to the sauce).
The taste should be a creamy tomato with a strong cheesy richness and a pronounced heat. If any of these parts are off the flavor will seem a little lacking – play with the recipe until you get it to your liking. All that’s left is to serve it with a hollow pasta such as rigatoni, ziti or penne.
Garnish with fresh basil.