Today is the first day of my last semester in graduate school.
Not to be melodramatic or anything. Actually, it's somewhat anti-climactic: it's pouring rain today and my first class isn't till 6pm. It's going to be a pretty crazed semester, with a business school studio, a community development studio, an econ development methods class, a Master's thesis, a job at a research institute, a job at the pro-downtown nonprofit, Do taking his PhD qualifying exams, not to mention extra-curricular commitments. But today, the first day, I can technically sit around in my P.J.s until 6pm.
Given the circumstances, either this blog is going to end up in hibernation again or readers are going to be inundated with "30min or less" dishes. Might as well start now.
Do has been increasingly interested in quality Italian food for a while now -- not Americanized Italian but designed-for-the-Italian-palate dishes. He and DNA have a good Italian friend whom they have both visited in Pisa, and returned much more rotund and waxing poetical about the dishes served by the friend's Italian grandmother. For Christmas, my Mom and grandmother got him two beautiful tomes: Marcella Hazan's first cookbook (think Julia Child for Italian food), and The Silver Spoon (a 1200+ page magnum opus published in Italy for the last 50 years and only recently translated into English. Maybe the Italian equivalent to Joy of Cooking?).
The first dish he tried was Silver Spoon's recipe for Penne in Vodka Sauce. This was last Thursday, a rainy work night. I had had a harrowing day and when Do insisted on taking over the kitchen, all I wanted was something creamy and comforting.
Did you know that parsley is a bitter herb? As in, that whole dipping parsely into salt water at Passover thing and mumbling about the bitter tears of our ancestors is not just for show? As in, cooking with parsley is kind of like using water when baking bread: you really, *really* shouldn't be blazé about proportions? Yeah... This recipe calls for 1 Tablespoon of fresh parsley. For the love of God, do not add the entire bunch of parsley. Do and I have scientifically proven for posterity that the results will be inedible. Think bitter. For my family: think of those daily anti-malarial pills that we used to take, and imagine one of those crushed and mixed into a delicate cream sauce. Yeah. Not so much.
We threw the first batch out and started over. This time, using ONE Tablespoon of parsley.
The second batch was quite impressive. Delicate texture but hearty flavor. Just enough cayenne bite to cut through the cream, and enough chewiness from the thick cubes of ham to lend gravitas to the dish. Vodka sauce is inherently not the most sophisticated pasta sauce out there, but this version takes a simple, comforting dish and turns it into something adult. Something that you're more likely to find in an Italian grandmother's home than in little Italy.
Penne Rigate in Vodka (serves 2 for a light super. We recommend supplementing the penne with a salad, or doubling the recipe)
1/4 cup butter
1 thick slice cooked, cured ham, diced
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley (no more!)
5 Tbs heavy cream
1/4 cup vodka
3 cups penne rigate
2 tsp cayenne
1 Tbs red pepper
Melt the butter in a pan, add the ham, tomato paste, and parsely, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10min. Stir in the cream and vodka and cook until the vodka has evaporated. Season to taste with cayenne and red pepper. Cook the penne in a large pan of salted, boiling water until al dente, then drain and tip into a warm serving dish. Pour sauce over the pasta, garnish with a little leftover parsley.