Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dinner, improvised: Pasta alla Vodka

My first experience with pasta alla vodka was as a teenager, while out to dinner with my parents at a fancy restaurant. At the time, my thought process was probably something like: Hey, it has alcohol in the title!

Being too young to drink, I suppose it was some misguided attempt at rebellion.

Since then, I've ordered it out many times and love the creamy, garlicky carb-loaded sense of pleasure I get after eating it. My current favorite place to order it here in Asheville is Eddie Spaghetti, topped with broccoli and loaded with parmesan.

I never tried to make it at home because I automatically assumed there was some trick to it that would preclude my success.

I was half right. Pasta alla Vodka is my current kitchen nemesis. I've tried The Pioneer Woman's recipe as well as one from Lidia Bastianich, two individuals I trust when it comes to delicious and simple, if cream-heavy recipes. Both recipes have a straightforward, fairly short list of ingredients and yet... I cannot get the taste balance right to satisfy my picky palate.

My downfall, I believe, with Ree's recipe was that I ignored her advice and reached for the half-and-half instead of the cream. I ended up adding an entire pint of half-and-half and a whole can of tomato paste, without achieving my desired results. My Kitchen Guinea Pig loved it. I thought it was meh. With Lidia's recipe I followed it to the letter, having never been disappointed before. I liked it better than Ree's. Kitchen Guinea Pig liked Ree's better. I couldn't win. I need to try Ree's to the letter next time.

I can’t help but think that mom’s solution in this case would be to add butter by the stick until it worked.

All of this adventure and torment came after I discovered a delicious and amazing shortcut to authentic pasta alla vodka.

Well, okay...

It's not a shortcut. It's a total cheat.


I've tried to spruce it up, but the reality is that this ends up being like a "Pasta Helper."


But it is really tasty! And easy! Perfect for nights when I'm just not up to fiddling with a recipe but I want my pasta alla vodka, damnit.

Until I can nail an original recipe to the wall and make it beg for mercy, it will have to do.


(PS – If you happen to have any suggestions as to the tomato/cream/cheese/garlic balance that results in the Ultimate Pasta Alla Vodka, please do share.)

Pasta alla Vodka for Cheaters
serves 2 with some leftovers

1 jar of Newman's Own Vodka Sauce (or sauce of your choice, I’m not endorsing…)
splash of vodka (for good measure)
1 mushroom/swiss hamburger patty*
head of broccoli
½ cup or more of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1-2 Tbsp. tomato paste
½ pound pasta of your choice (I typically use whole wheat penne or thin spaghetti)
olive oil
1/2 a sweet onion, large dice
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (I *heart* my garlic press)

*You can find these at the more boutique-y grocery stores (Earth Fare, Greenlife, etc.), but you could also just take 1/2 pound of ground beef and season it however you like. Same dif.

Directions for deliciousness:

Steam the broccoli and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water with a healthy dose of salt to a boil. Add your pasta and cook according to directions. Once cooked, drain the pasta and return to the pot.

In a frying pan, cook the hamburger patty as you would normal ground beef, breaking it up and browning the beef thoroughly. Transfer the beef to some paper towels and drain.

In a separate large sauté pan, add some olive oil and heat it over medium-low heat.

Add onions and sauté until translucent.

Add garlic and sauté 1-2 more minutes.

Turn the heat up to medium and add the jar o’ sauce, splash o’ vodka, Parmesan cheese and the drained ground beef.

Simmer the mixture for 5-7 minutes or until hot, stirring occasionally to incorporate and to get the cheese all melty.

Add the pasta to the mixture and stir it around to coat. Simmer a few more minutes.

Divy into bowls and serve with some warm garlic bread.

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