Until recently my only experience with vodka sauce was the bottled stuff in grocery stores, so I had some serious misconceptions about it.   They all tasted like regular tomato sauce, perhaps with a hint of “je ne sais quoi,”  but the real McCoy, made with Russian pepper vodka,  is completely different. Its tomatoes and cream play only a secondary role to its intense vodka punch.  Pepper vodka used to be impossible to find in the US, leading to many improvisations and liberties that turned a great sauce into humble variations. The moment I saw this recipe in the Essential New York Time Cookbook,  I had to give it a try.

(adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook)

1 pound rotini, penne or your favorite pasta shape
3.5  Tbs butter
1/4 to 1/2  tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup vodka
1 cup canned, diced tomatoes with their juices
1/3  cup whipping cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup grated parmiggiano regiano cheese

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. While the pasta cooks, prepare the sauce by melting the butter on a skillet large enough to hold all the pasta. When the butter stops foaming, add the red pepper flakes and the vodka and simmer everything together for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cream, cover and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper (be gentle on the pepper), keep warm.

When the pasta is al dente, add it to the sauce, heat everything together for a couple of minutes, add the grated parmiggiano cheese and serve, with additional parmiggiano at the table for those who like a little more.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: No ‘je ne sais quoi’ in the background of this sauce. On the contrary, its flavor clearly states what it’s all about: the heat of the vodka echoes that of the pepper. I’m fond of spicy food, but Phil prefers it milder, so I wasn’t  quite sure he’d like it as much as I did. To my surprise, he asked me to make it again two days later, to which I happily complied.  😉

My main modification was – as usual – reducing the amount of heavy cream,  in this case in favor of more tomatoes.   Last year I made another pasta sauce with vodka and pepper that’s also excellent, but it’s quite different in that the tomatoes are slow roasted in the oven.  It’s hard to say which one was better, but this version is definitely perfect for a busy weeknight dinner.

ONE YEAR AGO: Pork Tenderloin and Blue Cheese

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This recipe joins ingredients I’d never imagined together.  Think about a Chinese stir-fry with an American Southwestern flair.  Canned creamed corn might send me running in the opposite direction, but this recipe was described as “brilliant,” and with Mark Bittman backing it,  I took the  gastronomic leap of faith and went for it. What a great stir-fry concoction it is!   It’ll be a regular in my nightly repertoire from now on.  The combination of creamed corn and fresh corn kernels is the secret to success.

(from The Essential New York Times Cookbook)

1 pound boneless chicken breasts (or thighs), cut into small chunks
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 tsp Japanese sesame oil
1 Tbs white wine (or rice wine)
salt to taste
2 Tbs vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
1 Tbs minced garlic
1 Tbs minced ginger
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 can of creamed corn (15 oz)
1 cup corn kernels (I used roasted kernels, frozen)
chopped fresh cilantro

Mix the chicken with the soy sauce, the sesame oil, and wine. Season very lightly with salt. Keep at room temperature for 10 to 30 minutes (you can also do this step several hours in advance).

Heat the vegetable oil on a large skillet, when very hot, drain the chicken and add to the pan, without crowding (if necessary, do it in two batches). Let it cook undisturbed until the pieces get a nice golden brown color, then flip them around to cook the other side. The whole process will take less than 5 minutes, if your oil was hot enough to begin with. Turn the heat down, add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Cook for a minute, add the creamed corn and corn kernels (no need to defrost if frozen). Cook stirring every once in a while until the dish is heated through, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro right before serving, preferably over white rice.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Most stir-fries finish with a liquid thickened by some type of starch – usually cornstarch or arrowroot.  In this recipe the creamed corn provides all the texture and substance you’ll need.  I made it, start to finish,   in less than 30 minutes on a weeknight, but in the future I might marinate the chicken early in the morning and leave it in the fridge the whole day.

In the Summer, when corn is at its peak, I’ll use fresh kernels, but this time I grabbed the excellent frozen kernels at Trader Joe’s.  The fact that they were roasted added even more flavor.  The colors and the taste were like Spring on the plate.  We are ready for it…  😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedo (this definitely goes to our Hall of Fame of Breads)

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