If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ve probably been wondering when I would get around to giving this one away. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve referenced The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making and its warm-hearted author, Alana Chernila, but here’s a sampling: butter, ricotta, parp-tots, and of course those crackers.
Alice Waters is one of the people who made me think about food differently. Alana Chernila is one of the people who made me think about cooking differently. She has an absolutely infectious enthusiasm for cookery and with her family she makes a lot of kitchen magic. She also has the special ability to make that enthusiasm and that magic come through on the page (or on the screen). Having her book on the counter is as sparkly and inspiring as I imagine it would be to have her right there in my kitchen. She is simultaneously authoritative and approachable – the best kind of teacher. What I love most about her is, no matter the difficulty of recipe at hand, she makes me think I can do that.
I am so excited to be offering this book as our next give-away, and I’ll tell you more about what we’re discussing in just a minute.
But first – remember how I was working on a special-delivery dinner for our friends who just had their first baby? We went to see them on Saturday, dinners in hand – and snacks and treats and things too – and holy smokes people – what a sweet little person. Their new little guy is a total keeper. Which is good, because we like to travel and adventure around the world with Frank and Steph, and we want him to come too.
New-parent dinner deliveries are just about my favorite kind to make. After Lucas was born our amazing playgroup brought us multiple dinners each week, for months. Months! It made a huge impact on our lives, to have people care for us in that way. It also totally expanded my recipe repertoire. Hang out here long enough and it will expand yours, too, because lots of those meals are still on my menu rotation in one way or another. Claire’s pomegranate chicken, Rebecca’s (meat) lasagna, Yamile’s (vegetable) lasagna, Charlene’s teriyaki salmon with roasted carrots and parsnips, Danielle’s lime-peanut stir-fry … and Polly’s lemon cake. Oh lemon cake, lemon cake, lemon cake. We’ll talk lemon cake tomorrow. Tonight, though – tonight we’ll talk about Jessie’s vodka sauce.
This is technically Jessie’s dad’s recipe, which is why it is called Mr. O’s Pasta Vodka. I still have the hand-written recipe card Jessie gave me after I begged her for it. Of all the amazing post-baby meals we had, this was possibly Kyle’s very most favorite — and it is definitely the one he insists on including when we do new baby dinner deliveries to friends. It is sinfully rich and delicious, and when the butter and garlic are slowly heating on your stove it is going to smell like heaven, assuming at least that the food in heaven could ever come close to smelling this good.
One of my deep dark secrets about delivering post-baby dinners to friends is that I always make double batches, and then keep half. (Selfish, right?) This Vodka sauce is an exception though: I make the single batch and I have enough to give a huge container to the new parents, serve dinner for my family, and freeze a quart bag for a quick and easy dinner down the line. One more secret (and please don’t tell Mr. O!). I tweak the recipe – just slightly. I cut the Vodka in half, and double the tomatoes. I use mostly half-and-half instead of heavy cream. And I sometimes add half of an onion. Just little things to make it a tiny bit healthier, a tiny bit more new-mom friendly. And only very slightly less sinfully rich and creamy, I promise.
So now – what does this have to do with that book? Here’s what I want to talk about: is there a homemade staple that you love to share with friends, family, new parents or others in need of some support? Have you ever been given a homemade meal that made a huge impact – either because of the meal itself, or because of what it meant to you to be taken care of at that moment in time? What are we giving when we give something we have cooked ourselves? What are we getting when we are on the receiving end of a homemade meal?
Comments will close Sunday night at midnight. I can’t wait to hear what you all have to say.
Mr. O’s Pasta Vodka (almost)
With extra special thanks to my friend Jessie Mitra – and to her dad, too.
As mentioned above, I make a few health-oriented tweaks. If you want to try the original (and it is crazy good!) use 100% heavy cream, just one 28 ounce can of tomatoes (or two smaller cans), and a whole cup of vodka. (Also, omit the optional onion). We like to serve this with a big green salad, and some bread for sauce-sopping. Broccoli is also great on the side, since it goes really well with the sauce.
1/3 cup butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
(Optional: half a small yellow onion, minced)
1 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste – less if cooking for little ones)
1/2 cup vodka
2 cans whole tomatoes, 28 ounces each (I really like Muir Glen brand when I use tinned tomatoes)
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups parmesan cheese, shredded
To serve: pasta (cooked), chopped fresh oregano, red pepper flakes.
Melt the butter over low heat in your favorite soup pan. Add oil. Saute garlic (and onion if using) for about five minutes, keeping heat low so the garlic doesn’t burn.
Raise the heat, add the vodka, and simmer for about five minutes. While this is simmering, run the whole tomatoes through the food processor. (You could also just use crushed tomatoes – I just tend to like the flavor better when I use whole ones and chop them up).
Add the tomatoes and cayenne to the pan. Bring almost to a boil then lower heat and simmer for twenty minutes.
Add the half-and-half and the cream, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cook for another ten minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasonings (adding additional salt as needed).
Toss the sauce with the cooked pasta and the cheese. Top with oregano and red pepper flakes.
Mr. O claims that this serves 12, but I’d guess more like 20! Or maybe even 20, plus one brand new little baby. Yum.