Leafing through Nigella’s Feast, I came across a recipe for Penne alla vodka, which tickled my imagination! A combination of vodka + tomato + cheese sounded very interesting, and admitedly, very appealing! According to Nigella, the dish originated in 1960s in Rome. Renowned American food writer and restaurant critic Arthur Schwartz sheds light on how it originated:
“This is not a traditional Italian recipe. I know because I was there — more or less — at its invention. It was the early 1970s and vodka was a relatively new spirit to Italians. To promote the consumption of vodka in Italy, vodka distillers provided restaurants with gizmos that kept both the vodka and vodka glasses chilled and they held recipe contests among Italian chefs. This dish was the rage in fashion-conscious Italian circles in the mid ’70s. I never see it anymore in Italy. But Americans are entranced by the idea, even though it is nothing more than a tomato cream sauce with hot pepper and a good dose of vodka, which, to be frank, is hardly detectable in the finished dish.
To be totally historically correct, I should add that the hot pepper is a late addition. The original recipe was made with pepper-flavored vodka.”
Interesting, isn’t it?
Today, there are many versions of this dish, some including crushed chilies, other cubes of bacon. Why not play around with different possibilities?
Penne alla vodka
SOURCE: Nigella Lawson’s Feast
PREPARATION TIME: less than 5 min
COOKING TIME: 30 – 35 min
CUISINE: Modern Italian
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 tbsp garlic-infused oil (I just used olive oil and 2 cloves of garlic)
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp double cream
- penne rigate or other short, preferably ridged, pasta
- 65 ml vodka
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- Parmesan for grating over at the table (I used cheddar)
- If you are cooking this just before you eat, put the water on to boil before you start the sauce. You will need a big pan, enough to take the pasta and its sauce later.
- 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 just beginning to caramelize.
- Tip in the can of chopped tomatoes and continue cooking over a gentle heat, simmering for another 15-20 minutes. If you’re cooking this in advance, stop here.
- Reheat the almost finished tomatoes (or just continue as you were if you’re making this recipe in one go), stir in the double cream and take the pan off the heat. When the water for the pasta comes to the boil add a good measure of salt and tip in the penne. Set a timer for 3-4 minutes less than the packet instructions for cooking it, as you want to make sure it’s cooked al dente and will need to start tasting early.
- 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 in 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 the pans you are using.
- Toss the pasta in the sauce until it is evenly coated and turn out into a large, warmed bowl. Put it on the table along with a block of parmesan cheese and a grater.
Inspite of all the raving reviews from elsewhere, I was not too impressed by this dish. However, I think this maybe be purely my fault. I was a bit overenthusiastic with the vodka, and added about 1 dl or more to the pasta, and this was exactly the problem for me: It had too much vodka. There you go, it is possible to have too much vodka! Also, I didn’t have any cream at home, so I just omitted it.
This is an interesting dish, and I promise I’ll give it another go when I have some vodka at home, and let you know how it went.
Recipes for Penne alla vodka from other websites: