Vodka Sauce Penne

Quick & Easy, Recipes
on October 7, 2007
Mark Boughton / styling by Teresa Blackburn

Recently, we decided our all-purpose tomato sauce, the one we depend for pizzas and spaghetti with meatballs, and anything else that needs a blanket of sauce, needed sprucing up. Before stepping into the kitchen to invent another recipe, we set some ground rules. The new sauce should be simple to make, have plenty of tomatoes and hold up well in the freezer.

The project lingered on hold until we saw a can of fire-roasted tomatoes in the supermarket. Although we’ve been shopping long enough to know that pictures on labels don’t necessarily match what’s in the package, these tomatoes looked terrific. They were fleshy Romas, flecked with bits of char. Also, they were diced, a nice little bonus. Suddenly, the new recipe began to take shape.

Whenever possible, we add vegetables to whatever we’re cooking. For the tomato sauce, we started by pretending we were making a Bolognese sauce, and sautéed onion and carrot in olive oil. Once the vegetables were softened, a can each of fire-roasted tomatoes and diced tomatoes with garlic went into the pot. To intensify the tomato flavor and provide some thickening, we added a tablespoon of tomato paste. A splash of vodka gives tomato sauce an extra dimension. Ordinarily it’s the kind of addition made before the pot comes off the stove, but in this case adding it with the tomatoes worked better. Finally, a little cream stirred in at the last minute pulled the flavors together and added a modest amount of creaminess. It was exactly right.

—By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.