Welcome Back Vodka Sauce

Today I attempted and I believe accomplished my first vodka pasta sauce.

Vodka sauce is somewhat prolific here in NYC and features my favourite beverage – vodka – in a creamy, tomato concoction that tastes like nothing you’ve ever eaten before. I’m sure it will be one of my strongest culinary associations with this city – it appears on pasta, pizza, meat.. anything.

The reason for the vodka is the same as the reason many Italian dishes call for red wine – to unlock the flavours in the tomatoes that are otherwise hidden. Or because you just love vodka like I do.

My version does away with the heavy cream base and still gives you a lovely rich consistency that coats the pasta in pure, sweet, creamy deliciousness.

I made mine completely from scratch because I had some overripe tomatoes I wanted to put to use, but if you are stuck for time – tinned tomatoes can be substituted for fresh. For this qty I’d say 2 tins would be the equivalent.

Welcome Back Vodka Sauce

Qty for 4 portions. I refrigerated half before plating up to stop us going for seconds. 🙂

Ingredients:

10 small very ripe vine-ripened tomatoes

1 onion, chopped fine

1 small tin tomato paste (the single serve size, don’t get too pedantic, it can only improve the flavour)

2 bay leaves

1 clove garlic, chopped

1/2 cup vodka (I used Absolut – which is crazy cheap here – but you can use any reasonable tasting vodka. I would avoid super cheap vodkas even though you’re cooking it – you don’t want to compromise the balance of flavours for the sake of a few measly dollars..)

5 teaspoons grated parmesan reggiano cheese

1/2 cup no-fat Philadelphia cream cheese

Teaspoon of sugar (optional)

Fresh basil, shredded, to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Pam cooking spray or similar

NB – You’ll need a blender or similar to blend the sauce into its trademark velvety consistency

Now what?

Spray a medium sized saucepan with a light coating of cooking spray. On medium heat, brown chopped onion, then reduce heat to low and add tomatoes, whole, with bay leaves set atop, to the pan. Cover and allow to simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally to redistribute tomatoes and allow all to cook evenly. By the end of the hour they should be just falling apart with the skins and seeds falling into a gorgeous melee of aromatic tomato mush. Of course, if you’re using tinned tomatoes you can simply add these to your browned onion and move on to the next step.

Now you can add the tomato paste. Fill the can or container that the paste came in with water*, and add to the mixture, and repeat – keep doing this throughout the process if you feel the sauce is getting too thick as it boils and reduces away. By the way – don’t be scared if the water does keep disappearing – this is what you want! It means what’s left is even more concentrated and will be even more delicious. Also add at this point the garlic and vodka, bring to the boil for 5-6 minutes and then turn right down to a simmer again.

*If you’re a meat eater – you can substitute water for chicken stock to add another layer to the flavour of the sauce. Just be sure to taste your sauce before you add additional salt – bought chicken stock is usually loaded with sodium.

Allow the sauce to simmer for 20 minutes then remove bay leaves and stir through the grated cheeses and Philadelphia. Once combined – at least mostly – you can pour into the blender. You know that useless removable clear plastic part of the blender lid? Take it off the lid so steam can escape, and place a piece of paper towel on top to prevent splatter. Blend the sauce until you no longer see pieces of skin, onion or those pesky tomato seeds floating past.

Pour the sauce back into the saucepan, and keep it on a low simmer. Here’s where you can have a bit of a play and add seasonings to your taste. I added a hefty pinch of cracked black pepper and ground sea salt, a teaspoon of sugar, and 3 tablespoons of shredded basil – but it’s completely up to your taste. I think that’s the fun part of cooking – making a carefully nuanced balance of sweet, salty, sour to suit your taste. If you’re not sure and it just tastes bland start with salt and pepper in small proportions, and add in tiny increments until you’re happy. If you’ve used tinned tomatoes you will definitely need the sugar to balance out the acidity. The aroma and natural sweetness of basil will also help lift the flavour. Stir and keep warm until served. The extra simmer time will not hurt the sauce, trust me. Tomatoes looooooove a long cooking time.

I cleaned then chopped four organic (& hormone and antibiotic free) chicken thighs into strips and cooked in a frypan before adding to the sauce. This plus the Quinoa pasta spirals made for a really amazing, relatively guilt free dinner to warm the heart and fill the stomach. Perfect welcome back… or don’t leave me.. dinner.

Now, what to do with the rest of that vodka….. ha!

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Yep – still eating off plastic plates. SIGH.

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Food Shopping and Second Tier Essentials

Well anyway I have been reading Gertrude Stein today so if I do away with some grammatical conventions forgive me but I fear I never really needed them at all.

Haha, JUST KIDDING! I wouldn’t do that to you. I know you appreciate the punchy periods, would miss the pithy apostrophe (say that 10 times fast), the excellent ellipses and …

Okay, alright.

Today was all about the foods. My body staged a full-scale revolt against its own self (second time in a lifetime) and now refuses to digest various foods properly. It’s, shall we say, a sensitive little muffin. Which means the last 2 weeks of eating take away dinners has left my stomach pretty unhappy.

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My Old Faithful – fresh mint leaves in hot water, settles the tum

While I did my best last week to accumulate some basic, essential items I realised it was high time I got myself some second tier essentials. (For the uninitiated, second tier is marketing speak for I could give a crap, until I need you, usually used to refer to a hierarchy in guest lists or media spots).

THE LIST – Second Tier Essentials

– Frying pan with a decent sized base – having just one small sized saucepan is a little restrictive when it comes to cooking dinner. Breakfast fine. Maybe even lunch. But the little European woman in me is wringing her apron and shouting gibberish at the idea of trying to make a halfway decent dinner in it.

– Egg lifter – difficult to replace this with any other item, as I discovered this morning trying to lift a poached egg from it’s soupy domain – with two teaspoons… I don’t have to tell you for you to know this was a huge fail.

– Colander – such a simple, yet marvellous invention! Hot or cold, when liquids need draining, hands are not enough. Especially for the hot.

– Wooden spoons – beats a teaspoon any day, especially a plastic one

– Pretty straining spoon with wooden handle – OK not essential but it was 99c and look how pretty it is!

– Can opener – to avoid opening my hand instead of the can while trying to release its hidden goodness

Of course, just to stick with tradition I forgot a few things:

– Cling Wrap – useful but probably not essential

– Scissors – also, have replaced these with a knife thus far.. but would be nice to not risk slashing open my hands every time I want to open a packet…

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Today’s spoils from the 99c store. Can’t believe I forgot the scissors… I even thought of them while I was there… massive shopping brain fail!

I also found a wonderful fruit and veg grocer “To The World Farm” in easy walking distance, with a halfway decent and very reasonably priced supermarket next door. The grocer, whilst small, even offered things such as dandelion leaves and had meticulously stacked specimens of farm grown essentials – definitely a fan. Didn’t take a pic (at risk of looking like a tourist) but you can see their reviews here on Yelp. Here and next door I filled the fridge for $50 with fresh fruit and veg and some pantry essentials.

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I just love the packaging here. Most items of course we have in Oz. But some things just looked so cute, I had to buy them. Like these lovely ladies.

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This has got to be the most essential pantry item. Great for cleaning, salads, poaching eggs… anything else? Also easy on the eye.

On a side note – Yelp has been incredibly useful in finding some great places – it’s how I found the vet (with the free cookies) and while there are some cranky reviewers (of the Trip Advisor, mouth-frothiness variety) there are some very thoughtful reviews posted. I should return the favour with my own reviews. Soon.

And to end the day, I cooked us both a yummy dinner which I remembered to take a picture of just before it was demolished.

So that, my friends, is that. Tomorrow I pick up our couches, coffee tables, dining table, and assemble my first reading chair purchase! I know you’ll be dying to see so I’ll try to get the blog in to you at a reasonable hour 🙂

xx

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The first dinner cooked in Casa de Scholes. Ravioli and garden salad.. Delicioso.