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Penne Alla Vodka

From the book Feast by
Serves 10

Introduction

As with all dishes that find their way into a country’s repertoire, even oddball ones like this, there are many versions of this recipe. Some add red-pepper flakes, some cubes of bacon; I prefer it with neither, just the tomatoes, a base of onion, and the butter and cream stirred through later. The vodka itself — and you may have to steel yourself for this — is better added to the drained pasta and not, as all the recipes I’ve seen, stirred into the sauce. But feel free to play with it as you please. You could, indeed, consider using pepper vodka.

And if I suggest garlic-infused oil, that’s just because I always have it to hand, and find it a lazy way to get the garlic flavor without running the risk of the garlic burning and becoming bitter as you cook the onion. But obviously, you can use real garlic, either minced (in which case watch out while you cook) or just add a peeled whole clove to give a softer, sweeter hit of garlic to the sauce. An Italian would add the garlic clove and remove it once it’s browned; I find that as long as it’s cooked whole with the onion, it won’t brown so much that it turns bitter, and I’m happy to have an errant clove left in the sauce.

I know that two packages of pasta doesn’t sound like enough for 10, and normally I’d agree with you. That’s to say, I’d worry enormously about not giving people enough to eat if I cooked just one package of pasta for five. But it’s always the case that the more people there are, the less they eat. I suppose it’s because there’s more conversation and therefore people give themselves less chewing time. Or something like that. By all means add more pasta if you feel safer that way, but I promise this makes a vatful.

Ingredients

1 good-sized onion
2 Tbsp. garlic-infused oil
~ Salt
2 cans (14 ounces each) or 3 cups chopped tomatoes
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
2 lb. penne rigate or other short, preferably ridged, pasta
½ cup vodka
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
~ Parmesan, for grating

Steps

  1. If you are cooking this just before you eat, put the water for the penne on to boil before you start the sauce. You will need a big pan, enough to take the pasta and its sauce later.
  2. Finely chop the onion, either by hand or in a processor. In a large pan, heat the garlic oil and add the finely chopped onion and a good sprinkling of salt. Cook the onion fairly gently for about 15 minutes without letting it catch and burn, which just means giving it a stir every now and again. It should be very soft and almost beginning to caramelize.
  3. Tip in the cans of chopped tomatoes and continue cooking over a gentle heat, simmering for another 15 to 20 minutes. If you’re cooking this ahead (and I always do), stop here.
  4. Reheat the almost-finished tomatoes (or just continue as you were if you’re making this in one unbroken fluid movement), stir in the heavy cream, and take the pan off the heat. When the water for the pasta comes to a boil, add a good measure of salt and tip in the penne. Set a timer for 3 to 4 minutes less than the package instructions for cooking it, as you want to make sure it’s cooked al dente, and will need to start tasting early.
  5. Drain the cooked pasta, tip it back in the pan, and pour over the vodka. Add the butter and some more salt. Turn the penne into the vodka and melting butter, and then tip it into the tomato sauce — unless it is easier to pour the tomato sauce over the pasta. It depends on the sizes of pans you are using.
  6. Toss the pasta in the sauce until it is evenly coated and turn it out into a large, warmed bowl. Put it on the table along with a block of Parmesan and a grater.

Notes

Culinate editor’s note: If you like a smoother sauce, whiz the cooked tomatoes and onions in a blender before reheating with the cream.

This content is from the book Feast by Nigella Lawson.

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