Saturday, July 02, 2005

And a dash of vodka, please, or Nigella Lawson's Pasta alla Vodka

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:)


Anonymous said...

Hi Pille - that's really interesting about who drinks more vodka. I always assumed the Polish and Russians had everyone else outdistanced by a few light-years (which seems to be true - 15 liters!)... I'm really tempted to make that recipe, as I've actually never tried pasta with vodka sauce. By the way, do you like Feast? I was tempted to buy it when it came out but somehow convinced myself not to - do you think it's as good as Nigella's other books?

Pille said...

Hi Melissa,
I should refrase the comment about 15 litres – an average Russian consumes 15 litres, not each, of course. Though you never know :)
I heartily recommend the pasta alla vodka – I’ve made it three times since I tried it first in May, and I really like it. There’s a certain nice heat in the sauce – and it’s not just from chillies, I think the vodka gives a certain depth as well.
Re: Nigella’s "Feast". I have three of her books – "How To Eat", "How To Be A Domestic Goddess" and "Feast", and the latter is probably my favourite – at least at the moment. It reads lusciously beautifully, the photography is gorgeous and recipes extremely tempting. That’s quite a compliment to the book, I guess, as I’ve used HTBADG over the last few years A LOT. I was never tempted by "Nigella Bites" and "Forever Summer" though - are these any good?

Anonymous said...

I actually don't have any of her books, believe it or not... I've gotten several recipes from her website, however, which I intend to try. The ham in coca-cola is particularly tempting. Oh, by the way, I just ordered 'The Georgian Feast', thanks to your persuasive comments on Kuidaore!

Michèle said...

Hi Pille,
well Im just coming across your blog today and lo and behold it seems some of my favourite ladies have already found you :) The recipe looks great and Im looking forward to giving it a try and to reading your posts in the future!

Pille said...

Thanks, Michele! Your blog is quite an inspiration to me - I like the banner & layout a lot, and the writing is beautiful. No wonder that you and Melissa got along well:)
Melissa - I don't know about that particular book (let me know what you think of it!), but Georgian cuisine is really tasty. There are quite a few Georgian immigrants in Estonia (some of them from Abkhasia), and they've opened some nice restaurants which are also very popular with the locals. Their spicy lamb soup hartcho is one of my all-time favourites!

Anna said...

Finally tried this. It is great. I did run out of some of the core ingredients, and my local Puerto-Rican Market has an *interesting* selection (three types of rat traps but no produce) so I had to substitute Chinese chili-garlic paste and sour cream. Very tasty. Bathing the pasta in butter is a stroke of genius.

Totally agree BTW that How to Eat and Goddess are wonderful books - I really regretted buying Nigella Bites and the Summer book, but maybe I'll have to give Feast a try...

Pille said...

Hi Anna - thanks for popping by and I'm glad you enjoyed the dish despite the alterations!
I've actually omitted the cream myself couple of times (unintentionally - I'm simply very absent-minded), and it has worked perfectly well.

... Mark Mitchenall said...

Just found this recipe and although I never buy vodka, my sister does occasionally, and it sounds really nice and simple. I'm going to have to try it next time I'm cooking for her at her place and she has some vodka in the house. Hopefully the alcohol will evaporate enough so that my nephew can have some too! ;-)

Stacy Williams said...

I like your blog. I found this Pasta alla vodka recipe interesting.The picture of the Pasta vodka looks delicious ,colorful and yummy.Actually I don't like much pasta, but after trying this Pasta recipe.I like Pasta alla vodka.I make some changes according to my taste like less butter and high chilli flakes etc. But believe me the taste is so yummy that I cannot tell you . Thanks for your nice Pasta vodka recipe.I like to enjoy Pasta all vodka recipe with Cohiba .