I don’t remember how old I was as a young girl when my pasta eureka moment hit me. That moment when I understood why certain pastas are ideal for certain sauces and dishes, like macaroni for pasta e fagioli or fettuccine for Alfredo sauce. I do remember, though, when that moment hit I was eye-balling—rather closely—pasta shells and tomato sauce sitting in my spoon. I was amused in seeing seashell pasta filled with tomato sauce, as if the shells were miniature culinary ships carrying precious cargo straight to my mouth.
The shapes and textures of pastas complement different ingredients and sauces—culminating in dishes that offer perfect mouthfeels and perfect marriages of flavors. Creamy Alfredo sauce thoroughly coats the length and width of fettuccine; cheesy sauces nestle in the hollows of macaroni; and a ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan and beef mixture is the perfect stay-put stuffing for tubular manicotti. Can you imagine manicotti with just a simple pasta sauce? Talk about a limp noodle!
I adore pasta and eat it every week. Recently I discovered Giada De Laurentiis’ Penne with Vodka Sauce recipe… I’d never made vodka sauce before and the ingredient list piqued my curiosity. I queued up an Italian playlist, including Mambo Italiano, and then fired up the stove. I doubled the recipe so I could share the pasta love with family.
Here are the recipes for Giada’s Simple Tomato Sauce and Penne with Vodka Sauce:
SIMPLE TOMATO SAUCE
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
4 to 6 basil leaves
2 dried bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
In a large casserole pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, about 2 minutes.
Add celery and carrot and season with salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes, basil, and bay leaves and reduce the heat to low.
Cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour or until thick. Remove bay leaves and taste for seasoning. If sauce tastes too acidic, add unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, to round out the flavor.
Pour half the tomato sauce into the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Continue with remaining tomato sauce.
If not using all the sauce, allow it to cool completely and then pour 1 to 2 cup portions into plastic freezer bags. Freeze for up to 6 months.
Yield: 6 cups
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
PENNE WITH VODKA SAUCE
1 quart Simple Tomato Sauce (from the above recipe)
1 cup vodka
½ cup heavy cream, at room temperature
½ cup grated Parmesan
1 pound penne
Simmer the tomato sauce and vodka in a heavy large skillet over low heat until the mixture reduces by ¼, stirring often, about 20 minutes.
Stir the cream into the tomato and vodka sauce. Simmer over low heat until the sauce is heated through.
Stir in the Parmesan cheese until melted and well blended.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and transfer it to the pan with the sauce, and toss to coat.