You know the drill. You leave town for a couple of days and before you depart, you maniacally clean out the refrigerator and the produce bin. Heaven forbid a lemon should be left out to rot while you are absent! (Well, maybe I’m justified here – remember those fruit flies?)
So you leave the house and head to the airport, secure in the knowledge that your house has been left in good order, the timers are set to turn lights on and off and you won’t come home to the smell of decaying citrus or the sight of blackened cottage cheese. All is well and off you go on your trip with nary a thought about what on earth you are going to do about dinner on the evening you return.
But then, of course, you come home to NOTHING IN THE HOUSE. You’ve been traveling all day and the last thing you want to do is head out to the grocery store. Maybe a pizza delivery is in order. Well, maybe not. You’ve probably consumed enough junk on your trip to last for the next three months, so the last thing you can justify is a pizza, loaded with carbs and oozing with fat. Scratch that idea.
The answer to this conundrum is Penne alla Vodka. If you are like me, you have everything you need to make it in your pantry (okay, maybe not the vodka but if you are like me, you will have it somewhere in the house). It’s easy, it comes together in minutes and it’s really, really good. So good, in fact, that you will never miss that pizza! Besides, it has vodka in it. How bad could it be?
PENNE ALLA VODKA
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes (San Marzanos, if possible)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
16 oz. whole wheat penne*
2 tablespoons vodka
½ cup heavy cream
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a very large sauté pan. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, or until it just starts to give off a wonderful aroma. (Do not let it burn). Add the tomatoes with their juice and season with the red pepper flakes, kosher salt and black pepper. Bring mixture to a low boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow flavors to marry.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring often, until pasta is just done, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain well and add to the simmering sauce in the pan. Stir in the vodka and the cream. Season again if needed and cook for another 5 minutes or so until vodka evaporates slightly.
It’s nice to serve this with a little chopped parsley, but you probably don’t have any since you cleaned out your refrigerator. No worries, it’s good enough without it!
Serves 4 - 6
*I would urge you not to turn up your nose at whole wheat pasta. It's delicious and it's good for you. In truth, I prefer it to the "white bread" variety of pasta. It has more of a bite and a rustic quality that I think adds a lot to the dish. It does take a little longer to cook, so factor that in, but don't be afraid to serve it to your family or friends. If they are like mine, they won't know the difference. Trust me!
*Regular old canned tomatoes will do, but if possible, try to get your hands on some San Marzanos. Most grocery stores carry them these days and it's worth seeking them out.
*I have been known to serve this to company. They never knew it was a desperation dinner!