Imagine a tiny Italian farm kitchen on a chilly winter night. On the wood burning stove a big cast iron pot heats water for pasta while the farmer’s wife reaches for a jar of tomatoes canned months before, goes outside to the closet for thick fresh cream, an onion, a clove or two of garlic and a hunk of aged cheese, returns to the stove and in a quiet rhythm learned through years of work in her tiny space, peels, chops and pours deep green olive oil from last year’s harvest into the blackened skillet. Stirring only those few ingredients together to simmer until the pasta is cooked, and then adding a splash of homemade Grappa, she produces a rich pink sauce for a pasta dish she learned from her mother and will hand down to her daughters as has been the custom in their culture, and other cultures, for generations.
The brilliance of this particular sauce is that it is simple to make, tastes rich and delicious and adapts beautifully to a cook’s creative whims. Add sausage or herbs or mushrooms or toasted breadcrumbs and the basic sauce holds its own.
A few months ago I had a delicious version served over penne pasta at my friend Bobbette’s home. So in the spirit of Real Food passed from cook to cook, I asked her if she would prepare it for our Fresh By Northwest readers. She did, I took pictures, and we sat in front of her kitchen fireplace and enjoyed every bite.
- What makes it either sensational or ordinary is the quality of the ingredients: good tomatoes, fresh garlic and onion, real cream, good olive oil, good vodka and high quality, aged Parmesan.
- Recipes for this sauce are abundant and easy to find. Lots of them add other than the basic ingredients. If you want to, go for it. But before you start trying to make it better than the other guy’s, and all cooks do from time to time, try the simplest form first. You won’t be sorry.
Tomato and Vodka Sauce With Pasta
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced or crushed
1 yellow or white medium size onion, peeled and chopped
1 can (28oz.) diced tomato
1 cup heavy cream
¼ tsp. dried red pepper flakes
¼ cup vodka
Salt and ground pepper to taste
1 cup grated Parmegiano Reggiano, room temperature
1# Penne, Rigatoni or other tube-shape dried pasta
- Put water in large pot and bring it to a boil (for cooking pasta).
- Heat 2 tbs. oil in large saucepan. Add garlic and sauté until it begins to soften.
Add tomato and cook for about 15 or 20 minutes until the liquid has reduced to a very thick consistency.
Add vodka, cream and red pepper and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Turn heat down to lowest setting.
- Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente. Ladle boiling pasta water into pasta plates to warm. Drain pasta.
- Add the drained pasta to the sauce and mix well.
Mix half the grated cheese with the pasta and sauce.
- To Serve: Empty the hot water out of the pasta bowls (don’t bother to dry them). Divide the pasta among the bowls and garnish with remaining grated cheese. Serve immediately. Bobbette drizzled a balsamic vinegar glaze over the finished dish, which added a slight tartness and made each serving look gorgeous.