Over the last four months I’ve posted recipes that could take from an hour to six hours of preparation and usually with a decent hit to the wallet. So I got to thinking about the average person or aspiring cook in this busy day and age. I know that entertaining can be laborious and often expensive, but what if you could make a pasta plate that could stand tall next to anything a restaurant has to offer and do it in under a half hour from start to finish? Then, what if I told you it could cost less than $30 to feed a party of four? Seems too good to be true? Well it’s not; it’s Penne alla Vodka.
What to expect: NegroamaroNegroamaro - Black and bitter in Italian, not surprisingly has origins in Southern Italy's Puglia region. An important grape, both on it's own, and as a blending grape. It contributes a rich, slightly rustic mouthfeel to a finished wine and imbues it with a slightly burnt, earthy quality that accentuates the deep, roasted plum and mocha toned fruit.
To make it even better, I’ve paired three Italian wines that were all purchased for under $15 each. The wines were a Barbera d’Alba from northern Italy, a Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo from central Italy and a Negroamaro from the south. Each wine was a shoe in for a good pairing but I was also eager to see which would be the perfect companion to this dish.
Penne alla Vodka is not a traditional Italian preparation and searching for its roots leads to a wealth of disinformation and theories. What is fact is that ages ago it was realized that alcohol can help to bring out flavors in tomatoes that cannot otherwise be obtained through any other preparation. This is often why a red sauce will include wine in its list of ingredients. Not only does it help to bring out these flavors but it also imparts its own qualities to the sauce. Penne alla Vodka is a balancing act of flavors. The sweet sautéed garlic and onions play against the woodsy and smoky pancetta. The crushed red pepper provides a heat that is kept in check by the addition of heavy cream, which also rounds out any rough edges left behind by the vodka. The tomatoes take center stage providing a deep, fresh, succulent tomato flavor that, I find, can only be achieved in this dish. Lastly, the basil grounds you in reality with an earthy, vegetal mistiness, which brings it all together… God I love Penne alla Vodka!