Ah, penne alla vodka. The classic dish is an iconic throwback to the Eighties, along with MTV and permed hair. At its best, the sauce is a perfect balance of tangy tomato, sweet cream and pasta. In other words, the ultimate recipe for comfort food. And I’m guessing we can all use an order of that right about now.
But does vodka sauce really need vodka? Somewhere along the line I switched vodka for gin as my house spirit – it could have been the grapefruit-scented Italian greyhounds I was drinking a while back, which led to a serious negroni habit (ongoing, btw).
I thought gin would be a worthy stand-in. Like vodka, gin has a neutral clarity, but its herbal and botanical notes add a flavor and complexity that vodka simply can’t match. A little bit of chopped fresh rosemary in the finished sauce reminds me of gin’s piney juniper scent.
It feels like it’s time to reground. I’ll be spending more time in the kitchen over the coming months, cooking and revisiting favorite recipes. It’s just the nudge I need to be right here in this space. I hope you’ll be there, too.
- 12 ounces dried pasta (your favorite shape)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 shallot or small onion, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
- 1/2 cup gin
- 1 1/4 cups crushed canned tomatoes
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon (or to taste) crushed red chili pepper
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese plus more for serving
- Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil along with 3 tablespoons salt. Cook the pasta until al dente.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a wide pan large enough to hold the pasta. Add the shallot or onion and cook 1 minute. Pour in the gin and gently simmer 3 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, cream, red pepper, rosemary and ½ teaspoon salt; cook about 10 minutes.
- When the pasta is done, drain it and add to the pan. Reduce heat to low, add the cheese and stir until pasta is coated with the sauce. Serve with additional cheese on top.