Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Penne for Your Thoughts

Have you heard the latest controversy coming out of North Carolina, courtesy of---you guessed it, Fox News? Apparently, a mid-level restaurant owner posted a sign informing customers “Screaming Children Will Not Be Tolerated” and an irate mother of an autistic child who spends a lot of time screaming, is claiming discrimination.

Feeling wrung out from following the “Pastor Jones” debacle in Florida, I am not going to get into a dialogue about the outrageously inappropriate musings of both combatants. Instead, I suggest we all just stay out of that region til things settle down and cook ourselves into a cocoon of culinary comfort.

That being said, I am presenting my antidote to one blogger’s complaint that appeared in the story (which can be viewed at aol’s parentdish site), which reads “There’s nothing that can ruin a good dish of penne a la vodka more than a side of screaming kid.”

My advice to those of you who, like me, are sickened by the flurry of recent media fueled controversies, is to turn off cable news, turn up your Mario Lanza CD (you DO have one, don’t you?), and get yourself in your kitchen recreating Patricia Wells’ deliciously satisfying Penne with Vodka and Spicy Tomato-Cream Sauce or “Penne alla Bettola”. Or better yet, fly over to Florence, Italy and squeeze yourself onto a wooden bench packed with locals at La Vecchia Betolla, where you’ll eat well and won’t even hear an occasional infant squall over the din of lively conversation and laughter.

Here is Patricia’s version of the recipe served there; I’ve made it countless times over the years. Each time is as good as the one preceding it and always brings satisfied sighs of appreciation from my diners.

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 plump fresh garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

sea salt

one 28-ounce can peeled Italian plum tomatoes in juice or

one 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes in puree

1 pound dried Italian tubular pasta, such as penne*

2 tablespoons vodka

½ cup heavy cream

¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, snipped with a scissors

In an unheated skilled large enough to hold the pasta later on, combine the oil, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt, stirring to coat with the oil. Cook over moderate heat just until the garlic turns golden but does not brown, 2 to 3 minutes. If using whole canned tomatoes, place a food mill over the skilled and puree the tomatoes directly into it. Crushed tomatoes can be added directly from the can. Stir to blend, and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

2. Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add 3 tablespoons salt and the penne, stirring to prevent the pasta from sticking. Cook until tender but firm to the bite. Drain thoroughly.

3. A Add the drained pasta to the skilled with the tomato sauce. Toss. Add the vodka, toss again, then add the cream and toss. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and let rest for 1 to 2 minutes to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce. Add the parsley and toss again. Transfer to warmed shallow soup bowls and serve immediately. (Traditionally, a cheese is not served with this dish.)

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

*I find penne is the best pasta to use in this case because the chewiness the tubes provide serve as the perfect counterpoint to the silkiness of the sauce.