Side Dish: Cooper picks a recipe! (October 18, 2010)

Cooper picks a recipe!

In honor of my nephew Cooper’s portrayal of Romeo in his school play this week I let him pick which recipe we feature in today’s blog. When I asked what he’d like to see featured, he shrugged: “Spaghetti?”

Spaghetti?! No! We have to find some clever play on words that will tie back to your play.

Star-Crossed Lover Breakfast Strata
Montague Stew
Friar Lawrence Burrito
To Be or Nachos To Be (Oops! Wrong Play)
Rugelach & Jam

“Rugelach and Jam?” Cooper asked, “

Rugelach & Jam – R&J?, Romeo & Juliet? Get it?? To which Cooper said, “Does anyone even read your blog”?

Perhaps I was putting to much emphasis on the name; to paraphrase the Bard “spaghetti by any other name would still taste as sweet. “ Which brings me to my Penne with Spiced Vodka Sauce. It’s a recipe I don’t have on the menu at the restaurant, but one I enjoy making for friends and family at home.

I tried one last time to talk to Coop: if there was a character named Vodka in the play or if Mercutio made a Rye Vodka it’d be a different story, but they don’t. And Penne with Spicy Verona-odka Sauce doesn’t have a ring to it.

But Cooper didn’t give up on me: “The play is set in Italy. Spaghetti is Italian food, right?”

He had me there. I guess my recipe for “It-Is-The-East-and-Juliet-is-the-Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette” will have to wait.

Although all the alcohol cooks off, I think Cooper likes to pretend he is drinking when he eats this. Of course, I like to make this because I can pretend to be cooking while I’m drinking. ;)

Enjoy! So now I turn to you, my loyal readers (who I have convinced Cooper DO exist). Can any of you come up with a good R&J-themed name for this dish??

Penne with Spiced Vodka Sauce

Serves 4

2 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoons crushed hot red pepper (or less)
¼ cup vodka
1 and ¼ cups strained tomatoes*
½ cup light cream
¾ pound penne rigati or regular penne (about 4 ½ cups)
12 large fresh basil leaves, cut crosswise into thin strips
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 and ½ cups fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch dice

* Strained tomatoes, available in “Sterile-pack” containers are lighter and fresher tasting than canned tomato puree. If canned puree is all you can find, use 1 cup puree thinned with ½ cup water.

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and hot pepper and cook, shaking the pan, until you can just smell the garlic. Remove the pan from the heat and pout in the vodka – carefully; even off the heat it may ignite. When the boiling stops, return the pan to the heat and stir in the strained tomatoes. Season lightly with salt. Bring to a simmer, adjust to the head so the sauce is simmering and cook for 5 minutes. (The sauce can be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance. Refrigerate and heat to simmering before continuing.) Turn off the heat and stir in the cream.

3. Stir the penne into the boiling water. Cook, stirring occasionally, under tender but still firm (there should be a slight ring of white in the center of the penne when one is bitten into). Reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid and drain the pasta.

4. Return the penne to the pot, scrape in the sauce, and add the basil. Stir over low heat, adding some of the reserved liquid, if necessary, to make a sauce that lightly coats the pasta. Taste and add salt if necessary. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan and mozzarella, if using. Serve from a platter of ladle into warm shallow bowls.