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Penne alla Vodka

Serves 4

This is not a traditional Italian recipe. I know because I was there -- more or less -- at its invention. It was the early 1970s and vodka was a relatively new spirit to Italians. To promote the consumption of vodka in Italy, vodka distillers provided restaurants with gizmos that kept both the vodka and vodka glasses chilled and they held recipe contests among Italian chefs. This dish was the rage in fashion-conscious Italian circles in the mid '70s. I never see it anymore in Italy. But Americans are entranced by the idea, even though it is nothing more than a tomato cream sauce with hot pepper and a good dose of vodka, which, to be frank, is hardly detectable in the finished dish.

     To be totally historically correct, I should add that the hot pepper is a late addition. The original recipe was made with pepper-flavored vodka.

1   pound penne
2   large cloves garlic
2   tablespoons olive oil or butter
2   cups tomato puree or canned crushed tomatoes
1/4   cup vodka
    Salt to taste
  Hot red pepper flakes to taste
1/2   cup heavy cream

    For the penne, bring at least 4 quarts of water to a boil with at least 1 heaping tablespoon of salt.

    Meanwhile, over medium-low heat, cook the garlic in the olive oil for about 2 minutes, until soft but not browned.

    Add the tomato puree and the vodka. Bring to a simmer and let simmer briskly for 3 minutes. (this cooks off the alcohol.)

    Season to taste with salt and hot pepper flakes, overseasoning slightly to account for the cream that will be added.

    Put the penne to cook and while it is boiling, add the cream to the tomato sauce and simmer 2 or 3 minutes.

    Drain the pasta well, toss with the sauce and serve immediately.

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