I first had this dish when I was 16, at the Planet Hollywood in Cannes, France. We (my cousin and I) were young and wanted to separate from our parents, and we thought Planet Hollywood was hip and cool. I still remember the taste of that penne. It was mind blowing; like fireworks going off in my mouth celebrating the distinct marriage of rich, velvety smooth cream with the juicy tomatoes brought elevated by the alcohol in the vodka. Upon my return home, I quickly attempted to re-create it. Back then I used a pre-made red sauce called Pomi. With time I’ve preferred the results when I go through the effort of making my own sauce from scratch.
Although it will only take about 20 minutes of your time to make the tomato concasse at home, I realize that some just don’t have the time. In that case, make sure you select a fresh red sauce from your local grocer. They usually have them in the refrigerated section, with the fresh pasta.
With regards to the origin of this dish; some say it originated in Bologna, Italy while others claim it originated back in the 80’s by a company wanting to market its vodka brand to Italians. I can’t help but think its nothing more than an American-Italian concoction. Any other thoughts?
- 500g/1 lb 2 oz penne or pasta of choice
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 medium shallots, finely chopped
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 175ml/ 5½ fl oz/scant ¾ cup of vodka
- 400 ml/14 fl oz/1¾ cups pureed tomato concasse (RECIPE HERE)
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 heaping tbsp creme fraiche
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste ( I used white pepper, it adds a nice kick)
- A few leafs of basil, thinly sliced (also known as a chiffonade)
- Place a deep pot on medium heat, fill it half-way with water, add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the pasta, and cook according to packet instructions. I prefer my pasta al dente. Once the pasta has cooked, strain it immediately and toss it in a little bit of olive oil.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat and then add the shallots and dried oregano and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until the onions are soft and translucent.
- Add the garlic and sauté for a further 2 minutes then add the vodka and cook for 10 minutes to reduce it or flambé if you have done it before. Please be careful if you choose to flambé.
- Add the tomato concasse and tomato paste and cook for about 10 minutes or until it’s bubbling and has cooked through almost melting into a sauce. Stir often. Just before tossing in the pasta, add the creme fraiche and mix well to combine. Toss in the cooked pasta and mix well to coat then serve on individual serving plates topped with freshly grated parmesan and basil chiffonade.