Sunday, February 13, 2011

Vodka Pasta- a perfect pink sauce for Valentines!

Okay, vodka sauce is my favorite pasta sauce. I fell in love with it the very first time I tasted it at a little Italian ristorante in Dana Point, 'Mario's By The Sea'. With Valentine's Day just around the corner, maybe you will fall in love too... with the sauce I mean. It is so pink, and pretty, and perfect for the occasion! It is a great alternative to the usual red sauce for a special treat once in a while. This vodka sauce is  somewhat sweet with its sauteed onion, sweet basil, creamy background, and a good dose of cheesy parmesan... all very complimentary counterparts to the typical tomato sauce.

Recipe List:
  • 1/2 Onion, diced
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/2 cup Vodka
  • 1 (28-oz) can of Crushed Tomatoes, OR 3 cups or so of your own homemade red sauce
  • 1 cup of Half & Half (or a little more as preferred to achieve your desired pinkness :) -In a normal Vodka sauce recipe, this would be heavy cream, but I have substituted it for the (how do I say this nicely) less unhealthy half & half, haha.)
  • 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan Cheese, plus extra for serving
  • 1 lb of pasta (I like to use Penne Rigate, but any pasta you like will do)

Start by sauteing the onion in some extra virgin olive oil over medium-low heat for a few minutes (while you mince your garlic, and start boiling your pasta):

Then add the minced garlic and the red pepper flakes, continue to saute over medium-low heat for another minute:

Stir in the Vodka and let that simmer for about 2 minutes before you add in the crushed tomatoes and basil. Let this all simmer together for a minute:

Now, stir in your half-n-half and watch the pan turn to a beautiful pink color! :) Bring it to a slight boil, then turn the heat to low and let this sauce simmer together until your pasta is done cooking.

When the pasta is al dente, drain the noodles, then stir the parmesan cheese into the sauce

Then combine the sauce with the hot pasta and.... mangia! (or 'eat', in Italian!)
 Here are two different ways you can plate up this pink sauce :)

Don't forget to top it with a little extra sprinkle of parmesan cheese :) (If you're serving this for Valentine's Day, you can use a little heart-shaped cookie cutter and just sprinkle parmesan inside the heart so that you have a sweet design for your special night. I tried to do it tonight, but I couldn't find my cookie cutters. -Also, I think this would work only if you ladle the sauce on top of noodles (like picture #1 above) before you stir it all together (like picture #2 above)).

Also, I would have garnished with a few leaves of fresh basil, but my basil plant passed away. Therefore, I had to use another herb to garnish here that is commonly in the red sauce; thyme! But, if you have some fresh Basil, that would make a great garnish here! Garnish should give a little hint as to the flavors and herbs actually used in the dish.
I also think that it's important to garnish, because people eat with their eyes first. Plus, it's so fun to dress up your dishes, especially if it's a meal for entertaining guests or a special event, like say... Valentine's day! :)

  • I love, love, love sliced zucchini in this sauce. Unfortunately for me, I married a zucchini-disliker. Cut a zucchini in half lengthwise, and then slice them so that you end up with a bunch of little half-moon cuts; steam them for 30 seconds and stir them into the sauce to let it simmer after you have added the cream. 
  • You can also add little broccoli florets too. I have done both zucchini and broccoli together and it is great!
  • Serve with some diagonally cut grilled chicken, so you can keep the elegance while providing some protein
  • Accompany with warm, toasty bread... mmm!

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