Before I cooked, before I canned tomatoes, before I knew how to do anything—I made penne with vodka sauce.
In retrospect, it makes total sense for a new cook: a recipe you can’t screw up. Even the mandatory inclusion of the vodka ensures a little acid for balance, a little complexity. And the cream and cheese—well, it’s almost too easy. It’s almost pandering.
It’s no wonder I quickly gained a reputation of being a good cook among my college roommates, to whom I fed this often; they were convinced of the authenticity of my Italian heritage due to its sheer goodness. Never mind that there’s nothing particularly Italian about this dish—rumors abound as to its invention, with as many creation myths placing its birth in the States as in Italy. I think of the best Italian cooking as spare, restrained, judicious. This is none of those things.
But really, who cares? Vodka sauce feels like a party, but it is also supremely cozy, so it is the right call for dinner whether it’s a spangly earrings or sweatpants kind of night. Or both, which can happen, now that the cold weather is here to stay for a while.
And hey! Today is my 100th post on ugly but good. Thanks for sticking with me! As a little present, consider sharing my link with your friends.
Penne with vodka sauce
Saute 2 finely-diced onions in a mix of olive oil and butter over gentle heat, just until they become translucent (no browning!). Add enough vodka to cover and bring to a simmer; simmer 3 minutes. Add 1 large can tomatoes; crush them with a potato masher. Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Add heavy cream—you can do 1/4 cup if you like it light or up to a cup if you really like it rich. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Add freshly grated parmesan cheese, and pass more at the table.