Penne alla Vodka

When I first met Shane, we used to eat out ALL the time. A home-cooked meal was a very rare thing. After we moved in together, we did start cooking more, but on average still ate out at least twice a week. Granted, those were the days before I started this blog; I really didn’t know how to cook, and frankly, I didn’t find it all that enjoyable. Fast forward a few years, and wow, have things changed. I have fun planning and preparing our meals most nights, and I can count on one hand the number of times the two of us have gone out for a sit-down meal together in the past year. I’d rather take all that money we save on not eating out and put it toward a great vacation somewhere anyway :)

We do still order a pizza or Chinese take-out a few times a month if we have a busy day, or just don’t feel like cooking, but it’s more the exception than the rule. The other day I noticed that Five Guys is opening its first location in our area (about 5 minutes from our house!) and something tells me we’ll be stopping in there before long to see what all the hype is about. Neither of us has ever had it, but people seem to LOVE that place. Have you guys eaten there? Is it good?

Penne alla Vodka

When we do go out to eat, it’s rarely Italian food, and I have to confess I’d never had penne alla vodka before I made it a few weeks ago. It’s definitely my kind of meal though, and it won’t be the last time it’s on our menu. The ingredient list is pretty short, and I generally have everything I need on hand (except the penne apparently :) ), plus this can be thrown together in less than 30 minutes so it’s great for those nights when you just need to get something on the table without a lot of fuss. Pasta in a creamy tomato sauce with a little bit of vodka thrown in for good measure – it’s both simple and comforting, what’s not to like about that?

Penne alla Vodka
from Cook’s Illustrated

1 (28 oz) can whole tomatoes, drained (liquid reserved)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small onion, minced (about 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 lb penne (or other pasta shape)
1/4 cup reserved pasta cooking water
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, until just shy of al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

Meanwhile, add half of the tomatoes to your food processor and pulse until smooth. Dice the remaining tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces. Combine the diced and pureed tomatoes in a 2-cup measuring cup, and if necessary, add the reserved liquid until the total measures 2 cups.

Set a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and heat until shimmering. Stir in the onion and tomato paste, then cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, or until the onions begin to soften. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Mix in the tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Take the pan off of the heat and add the vodka. Return to the burner, increasing the heat to medium-high, and simmer until the alcohol flavor is mostly cooked off, about 8-10 minutes (lower the heat to maintain a simmer if necessary). Stir in the cream and cook just until hot, about 1 minute.

Add the pasta back to the pot you cooked it in. Pour the sauce over the pasta, and toss over medium heat until the pasta absorbs some of sauce, about 1-2 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, you can add some (or all) of the reserved pasta cooking water to thin. Stir in the basil and season to taste with additional salt, if necessary. Serve, garnished with freshly grated Parmesan, if desired.