Monday, September 19, 2011

Vodka Sauce

Marinara sauce gets some much-needed zing with the addition of vodka. Balance the flavor out with some cream, cheese, and crisped pancetta. This dish reminds us of one served at our favorite Italian restaurant in Philadelphia. It takes us right back to the small, cramped, romantic dining room of the restaurant we visited often in our college youth. A dinner out and a moonlit stroll back to campus was perfection.

Marinara Sauce:
1/8 cup olive oil
½ onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup chopped basil leaves

Vodka Sauce:
Marinara sauce (see above)
¾ cup vodka
½ cup heavy cream, room temperature
½ cup Pecorino Romano cheese
1 tablespoon butter
3 ounces pancetta, cubed
2 cups frozen peas
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound pasta (we like penne)

This recipe is broken into two stages.  First, we make a simple marinara sauce.  Once complete, we transform it into a rich and decadent vodka sauce.

For the marinara sauce... In a medium pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté about 8 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and soft. Add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, and salt and pepper. Simmer over low heat for an hour. Add basil leaves then take off heat and cool.

In a large sauté pan, combine the marinara sauce and vodka. Simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the mixture reduces by a quarter. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Crisp the pancetta cubes in a nonstick pan. Once the marinara and vodka mixture reduces, add the pancetta cubes and drippings from pan, heavy cream, Pecorino Romano cheese, butter, and peas. When the peas have cooked, adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cooked penne pasta.

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