I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine's Day! TC and I made a delicious meal of penne alla vodka and garlic bread. We don't go out for Italian food often, but when we do, I love ordering pasta with vodka sauce. It is a tomato-based sauce with heavy cream and a small amount of vodka. How can you go wrong with that combo? This recipe also has red pepper flakes to add a little spice, but you could definitely leave them out without altering the taste of the sauce. TC enjoyed the extra spice, but I think next time, I will put in 1/4 tsp to make it less spicy. I was amazed by how quickly this sauce came together and it tasted just as yummy as the Italian restaurant version. This is a wonderful dish to make during the week, coming together in about 30 minutes, or make it for a special occasion to impress family and friends. They will feel like they are dining in their favorite Italian restaurant!
I also whipped up some garlic bread which was so good. I got a small loaf of French bread that would feed just the two of us, cut one-inch slices without cutting all the way through the bread, spread each slice with a generous amount of garlic butter and wrap in foil for soft baked bread!
Penne alla vodka (serves 4)
16 oz. dried penne (feel free to use a different pasta)
1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
2 T. olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion
1 T. tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (use less or more depending on how much spice you enjoy)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 to 1/3 cup vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup reserved pasta water, if needed
2 T. finely chopped fresh basil leaves
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Drain the tomatoes, but reserve the liquid for later. Divide the tomatoes in half. Add half to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Coarsely chop the remaining tomatoes, discarding the seeds. Combine the puree and diced tomatoes in a 2 cup liquid measuring cup. Add in enough of the reserved tomato liquid, so that you have 2 cups total.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta. Cook the pasta according to package directions until just shy of al dente.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Stir in the tomatoes and salt. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vodka. Return the pan to the heat and simmer briskly until the alcohol flavor is cooked off, about 8-10 minutes. Stir frequently and lower the heat if the simmering becomes too vigourous. Stir in the cream and cook until heated through, about 1 minute.
When the pasta is finished cooking, drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss over medium heat until the pasta adsorbs some of the sauce, about 2 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water. Stir in the basil and extra salt if needed. You can also stir in freshly grated Parmesan cheese if desired or just serve with the Parmesan cheese.
***Recipe from Cook's Illustrated via Annie's Eats
Note: If you have a larger loaf of bread, double the garlic butter recipe.
1 small loaf of Italian or French bread
4 T. unsalted butter, softened
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning or dried parsley (could also use 1 T. fresh parsley if you have it on hand)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the softened butter, garlic and Italian seasoning or parsley. Add in as much freshly grated Parmesan cheese as you'd like and stir to combine.
Make 1-inch thick slices into the bread, but do not cut all the way through. Put a generous amount of the butter mixture on each slice. If desired, top the bread with some more Parmesan cheese. Wrap the bread in aluminum foil and bake for about 15 minutes in the oven.
***Adapted from Simply Recipes