Sunday, October 14, 2007

Penne alla Vodka

The 7th annual Baltimore Marathon took place yesterday, and the streets of Baltimore were taken over by about 12,000 runners, one of whom was yours truly. I ran the marathon as part of a four-person relay team that was made up of myself, my brother, the bf, and the bf’s very tall friend. The 26.2 miles of the marathon were divided into 4 legs, the shortest of which was 6.0 miles and was very hilly, and the longest of which was 7.3 miles and had a long downhill stretch. My leg was 6.1 miles, the last two of which were uphill.

Now, if you know anything about me, you know that I’m not a very athletic person, nor do I enjoy running. I did train for this race, but not as much as you might think I did. The thing that really gets me through a race is adrenaline – I love the excitement of race day and being surrounded by all the people who are running. I ended up doing very well (for myself, that is – I took a minute off each mile), and I am very proud of myself for not only having run this race, but also for running it well – I improved my time, I walked very little of it, and I was totally not tired when I was done (I’m usually dying around mile 3.25).

So because Saturday was race day, Friday night necessitated a pasta dinner. My brother and the bf both came over for dinner (at separate times – what a nice girl I am for making two successive rounds of dinner), which consisted of three different courses of pasta. One of them was penne alla vodka, of which I used to be wary. I didn’t really see the need for adding flavorless vodka to sauce, but the scientist in me remembered that there are compounds in both tomatoes and peppers that are only alcohol soluble. Therefore, adding vodka to sauce releases those trapped flavors without adding any other flavors from the booze (which happens when you add wine). Although vodka sauce isn’t a traditional Italian dish (it was invented in Italy in the 70’s because vodka makers sent the stuff to chefs and they held recipe contests), it’s spicy, creamy, carb-y, comforting, and it utilizes science – a combination I can’t resist.

Penne alla Vodka
(serves 4-6)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
½ cup vodka
2/3 cup vegetable broth
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 pound penne pasta
Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
8-10 large basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes (do not let the garlic turn brown).

Add the red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Add the vodka and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. When the vodka has reduced by half, add the vegetable broth and simmer for 3-4 minutes.

In the meantime, pour the tomatoes and their juices into the bowl of a food processor or a blender jar. Pulse a few times to break up the tomatoes – you want neither large pieces of tomato nor a completely smooth puree, just a sauce with a little texture.

(In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta until just short of al dente.)

Add the tomatoes and the salt to the saucepan. Let the sauce simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cream and let the sauce simmer for another minute or two.

When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the saucepan. Let the pasta cook for a few minutes so that it absorbs some of the sauce. Divide the pasta among serving bowls and top with the cheese and basil.


xiao zhu said...

Congrats on your team finishing the marathon! That pasta looks really great!

kristen said...

i've been craving penne alla vodka lately... this is only making that worse.

Meghan said...

i love vodka sauce! soooo good!

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