Monday, March 19, 2012

healthier, simple "pasta alla vodka"

Not really at all like pasta alla vodka in ingredients or method, this nonetheless is reminiscent of it. Victor made this up the other day when we didn't have much food in the house; it's amazingly creamy even though it has no cream. Wholesome and decadent? Sign me right up.

Linguine Cacio e Pepe, with Tomato
adapted from Smitten Kitchen by Victor

I made the sauce while my pasta cooked. It fits right into that amount of time (8-12 minutes, depending on your pasta), and you get to serve both the pasta and sauce immediately after they've finished cooking.

Pasta Ingredients:

1/2 pound spaghetti or linguini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

Sauce Ingredients:

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 twelve-ounce can diced, fire-roasted tomato (I used Muir Glen)

Pasta Directions:

Cook pasta in well-salted water to your al dente tastes in a large pot.  Drain pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.

Dry out your pot, then heat the olive oil over high heat until almost smoking. Carefully add drained pasta and 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water.
Add butter, cheese, and ground pepper, and toss together with tongs. Add more pasta water, cheese, pepper or salt to taste.

Sauce Directions:

Open the canned tomatoes now. You'll need them in a minute or two.

Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is up to temperature, add the diced garlic. Push the garlic around in the oil until it all pulls together into a little clump. There should be just enough oil there to keep all the little bits of garlic floating, basically shallow-frying in a little puddle.

When the garlic begins to brown visibly, add the entire can of diced tomatoes. There's a bunch of liquid in there, so it may splatter a bit. Stir the tomatoes and garlic together, then spread the mixture evenly across the skillet. Lower the heat to medium. I used a splatter guard, but it wasn't really necessary after the first big sizzle was over.

Let the tomato mixture cook until all of the visible pools of liquid have cooked off, 8-10 minutes. If the skillet begins to show through while there's still liquid in the pan, stir and spread the mixture again. When most of the liquid is gone, you'll have something that looks a bit like chunky tomato jam (it's not jam, though, because there's no sugar in there).


Serve pasta, sprinkling with reserved cheese and an extra grind or two of black pepper. Add a generous ladle of the tomato sauce on the side.

When I made this recipe, we both ended up mixing the pasta and sauce together. The result was a pinkish and creamy sauce that was remarkably like a vodka sauce. That makes some sense, because it's got a similar list of ingredients (cheese, fat, tomato). But, there's no alcohol and much less fat here. What are the vodka and cream really for, then? The cream is obvious - rich and sweet. The vodka is supposed to develop tomato flavor. We got a similarly deep, sweet sauce by using canned fire-roasted tomatoes and cooking them down in their own liquid. Take that, fattening restaurant food! It's like Cook's Illustrated up in here! Except that I got this result by accident, and I've only done it once, so it's possible that it was a total fluke.

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