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Penne alla Vodka

Penne alla Vodka
Vodka may seem like an odd ingredient for an Italian dish, but this Florentine pasta has become a modern classic. When cooking with a strong liquor such as vodka or brandy, it is important to add it early on in the cooking so that most of the alcohol and its harsh taste can evaporate, leaving behind only the flavor of the liquor. For a tomato-based sauce like this one, add the liquor after sautéing the garlic and allow it to reduce before putting the tomatoes in the pan.

When adding liquor to a pan, be sure to completely remove the pan from the stovetop to prevent possible flare-ups. Keep a lid handy in case you need to smother any flames.

Ingredients:

  • 5 large tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb. penne
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Leaves from 3 or 4 large fresh flat-leaf parsley
      sprigs, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Peel and seed the tomatoes, then cut them into small dice. If the tomatoes are very juicy, drain them for about 10 minutes in a colander. Set aside.

In a large fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté until just starting to turn golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the stovetop and add the vodka. Return the pan to medium heat and cook until reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Generously salt the boiling water, add the pasta and cook until al dente (tender but firm to the bite), 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well and add the pasta to the fry pan.

Add the cream and cook, stirring, over medium heat until the pasta is well coated with the sauce, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Pour into a warmed large, shallow bowl. Add the parsley and toss briefly. Serve immediately.
Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Pasta, by Erica De Mane (Simon & Schuster, 2001).