I'm sure I heard the saying somewhere, "When life throws vodka at you, make Penne alla Vodka". Just like frozen peas, frozen edamame beans, coffee ice-cream and ice, vodka is also a crucial staple in my freezer. I never know when I'll need it, so it's better to have a good supply of it. This is one way to use vodka that won't give you a hangover though.
There are so many variations of this creamy, tomato based sauce pasta dish. One time I had penne alla vodka with cubes of pancetta and it was delicious (so as anything else with bacon I suppose); I've also had it with fiery red pepper flakes and that was delicious too...
I first made this back when I started uni and I couldn't recall the recipe I used, but I came up with my own since then which is pretty basic and not much different to many other recipes. The key however I think for a good penne alla vodka is timing. The sauce shouldn't simmer too long, otherwise you will lose the flavour of the vodka.
This is how I do it: get a big pot of water boiling on the stove. Whilst waiting for the water to boil, finely chop 1 onion and cook gently with some salt on a medium heat with olive oil and butter on a pan big enough to take the pasta and sauce later. When the onions became soft and translucent, add 2 finely chopped garlic and continue cooking, stirring occasionally and don't let the garlic burn.
When the water is boiling, add plenty of salt and add 250 gr of penne. You have to act fast now, because the pasta should be cooked in 8 - 10 minutes. Add 1 can of chopped tomatoes to the onions and garlic mixture. I then add just a pinch of sugar to balance the acidity of sauce. Let the sauce comes to a boil and then let it simmer. About a couple minutes before the pasta is cooked, stir in 60 ml of vodka. Use good quality vodka. It makes all the difference. Also add a couple tablespoons of single cream. The sauce will turn into a beautiful soft-red colour. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if it needs more salt, pepper or vodka... :)
Drain the cooked pasta and tip it into the sauce and mix well until everything is evenly coated with a little extra butter if you wish (I always do to make the sauce shine and for flavour too of course). Serve on a bowl and grate some Parmesan on top and chopped parsley if you got some.
To wash it all down, I like this refreshing vodka-ginger cocktail. The method below is great but you have to make the syrup mixture in advance to chill which I don't mind doing; but there are times when I just simply cannot wait. For a short-cut version of this cocktail, simply mix 3 parts of ginger ale and 1 part of vodka in a glass with crushed iced. Contrary to what I said at the beginning, too much of this might give you a hangover.
Recipe by Stéphane Reynaud
200 g fresh ginger
1 litre water
300 g soft brown sugar
Place the vodka in the freezer. Peel the ginger, chop into small cubes. Place them in a saucepan, cover with water, add the sugar and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes. Purée this mixture and chill for 1 hour. Serve the ginger syrup with crushed iced and vodka in a highball glasses.