While travelling or living abroad (including Scotland, although it feels more like home after six years) and telling people that I’m from Estonia, I am usually asked whether we drink lots of vodka in Estonia. I guess it’s because we’re neighbours with Finland and Russia, both known for their fondness of vodka (indeed, BBC Radio 4 stated yesterday afternoon that each Russian – including children and the elderly - consumes 15 litres of vodka annually!). I sometimes take offence to this question, as I don’t think that we drink lots of vodka back home. At least my friends don’t. We drink copious amounts of mulled wine – hõõgvein – during the dark long winter nights, cold beer during summer (and always after sauna) and wine on other occasions. But upon reflection, my parents’ generation probably prefers vodka to wine – out of old habit, as good wines were unavailable during the Soviet era and vodka was pretty much the only drink one could find in the shops. Though even vodka disappeared after Gorbatchev came to power in 1985..
Anyway, back to my own ‘vodka-fuelled’ weekend. On Saturday night my Japanese friend Ryoko came over for a chat and a light meal. I had been spent couple of leisurely hours at the Meadows at the G8/Make Poverty History event, and was too lazy to cook anything substantial. I also want to finish off the bottle of vodka in my cupboard ASAP to avoid questions about Estonians’ favourite tipple, so I made again – second time within a week - penne alla vodka from Nigella’s Feast. Or to be more precise, I made fusilli bucati corti alla vodka. It’s really easy to make and there’s something naughty about adding vodka to pasta. According to Nigella, the dish originated in Rome in 1960s, and though ‘it sounds the unlikeliest of inventions, but it works strangely well: the vodka gives a grainy depth balanced by the acid fruitiness of the tomatoes (think Bloody Mary), both mellowed by a slug of cream and the butter that is melted on to the pasta before it is combined with the sauce’ (p. 132).
Pasta alla vodka
Serves 4 as a light meal or 2 as a main course with some left over.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 chopped onion
1 chopped garlic clove
pinch of salt
400 g can chopped tomatoes
a pinch of chilli flakes
1 tbsp double cream
500 g short pasta (penne, fusilli)
4 tbsp vodka
2 tbsp butter
grated Parmesan cheese
Make the sauce first, as it can be easily reheated.
Heat the oil, add the onion, then garlic and salt, and sweat until onion is soft and translucent. Don’t burn.
Now add the chopped tomatoes, pinch of chilli flakes and simmer on a gentle heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
[Until this point the sauce can be made in advance].
Cook the pasta al dente.
Just before the pasta is ready, stir the cream into the [re-heated] tomato sauce.
Drain the pasta, pour the vodka and stir the butter into the pasta.
Mix with the creamy tomato sauce and serve with extra parmesan cheese.
My Romanian friend Ruxandra served it with creamy goat cheese instead of parmesan back in May, and it was delicious as well.
UPDATE 22.4.2006 Have swapped the picture for a nicer one. Also, I tend to add slightly more vodka nowadays, use mascarpone instead of double cream and sprinkle lots of fresh parsley on top. Still a real keeper, almost one year on:)