Monday, August 16, 2010

Vodka Tomato Sauce

I've never had chicken noodle soup when I don't feel well. Generally, if I'm sick, my mother makes me juk (or jook- 죽), this rice porridge-type dish. I like my juk cooked with egg, and I add soy sauce in little dribbles as I eat.

But since my mother is not here, I was on my own. I didn't feel like going shopping for any food, certainly, and I wasn't about to get food delivered (the choices in Albuquerque are not good- pizza and Chinese food, I think), so I looked through my refrigerator and the pantry staples I had around the house. All I could come up with were the ingredients for vodka sauce, that lovely, deceptively simple-looking tomato sauce that works well with strand pasta.

Normally, this sauce is made with cream. Since I only had half-and-half, I heated up the stuff and reduced it by about half, which I reasoned had doubled the fat in the half-and-half, making it pretty close to heavy cream (my logic is flawed, but at least I am able to justify things to myself). I reduced the half-and-half with salt and coarsely cracked pepper in it, figuring that I might as well season it since I was going to be heating it up.

Easy sauce, it takes about half an hour from start to finish (including the chopping of the onion and garlic, and I have pretty terrible knife skills).

Vodka Tomato Sauce
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 small to medium onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup vodka
1 can (28 ounces) tomatoes (chopped or crushed or diced)
1/2 cup heavy cream (or my reduced half-and-half method)

Heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add onions, season with salt, and let the onions soften. Once the onions soften a bit, add the garlic. Do not brown the onions or garlic; they should get soft and fragrant. It should take 5 - 10 minutes.

Turn up the heat to medium-high and dump in the vodka, letting it cook out until just a little bit of liquid remains. It should only take about 3 - 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and bring up to a bubble, then lower the heat and simmer. After the heat is lowered, blend in a blender or with an immersion blender.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour in the heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Sauce is done!

I combine the sauce and cooked pasta, then grate some cheese (usually Parmiggiano, but I only had Pecorino in the house, so I used that) over the whole thing, toss it together, and chuck it all into a bowl.
I use an immersion blender because that's all I have (I have no large kitchen appliances here) and I don't blend it until it's totally smooth. I leave little chunks of tomatoes (I had used chopped tomatoes here, though diced or crushed work equally well) so that I can get a little bit of texture.

Small shavings of cheese (not big, long curls of cheese) bring a lovely, salty bite to punctuate. I love Pecorino.

I really, really love tomato-based pasta sauces with kimchi. I know, it's a little weird- but they work really well together. Yum.

This particular batch of sauce will probably feed me for five or six meals. I don't like a ton of sauce on my pasta, though (the photos above show a lot more sauce that I like; I figured the pictures for this post need to really show the sauce, since that's what I'm talking about), so it may feed a "normal" person only three or four times.

I feel a little better now. Perhaps something about the vodka in the sauce helped me? Oh- and a note about the vodka: I only have citrus infused vodka in my freezer right now, so that's what I used. I couldn't detect any weirdness about the finished sauce, though it smelled fragrantly lemon-y when the vodka was simmering away (vodka and butter smell delicious together). I also have to be honest- I probably used a little more than half a cup of vodka, since I glugged it into the saucepan.

Since I live at a higher altitude, I have to use a slightly higher heat and cook things for a couple extra minutes to get food just about right. At some point, I'll write another post about that- the weird issues of having to cook at a mile high. Another time, after I'm done with this entire pot full of vodka tomato sauce.