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Feb 18, 2020
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WINE WITH…Pasta alla Vodka

The origins of this delightful pasta preparation are somewhat murky.  Is it an Italian classic, an Italian-American creation, or an upstart American dish that may have been invented in the 1980s to be served in discotheques?  A quick search online suggests all of these as possibilities, but no matter its actual history, Pasta alla Vodka seems here to stay—and a good thing that is too.  Although the ingredients may be modest and the preparation simple, Pasta alla Vodka is surprisingly delicious.  Some folks say that’s because the vodka extracts flavors from the tomatoes that water alone can’t; others suggest that vodka and cream form a complex symbiotic taste relationship.  All we know for sure is that we love it!

One way to raise this essentially humble dish to truly delectable heights is to use of the kind of tomato paste that comes in a tube rather than a can.  For a relatively modest price, one 4.5-ounce tube of super-concentrated tomato paste delivers fresh, bright tomato flavors bursting with umami.  This tomato paste tastes richer by far than canned tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, or even whole peeled fresh tomatoes.

Penne is the standard pasta for this dish, but most other tubular pasta such as rigatoni can be equally delicious.

Pasta alla Vodka

Serves 4

1 onion, minced (about 1 cup)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling over top
One 4.5-oz tube of tomato paste
3 ounces vodka
One cup heavy cream
Red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 pound grated Parmesan cheese   
One pound penne, rigatoni or other tubular pasta

Put a large pot of generously salted water on to boil.  When the water starts to boil add the pasta and cook according to package directions.  Meanwhile, cook the onion in the olive oil until it softens, then add the garlic and cook another couple of minutes.  Squeeze the entire tube of tomato paste into the mixture, stirring constantly as it cooks until it has darkened a little in color.  Stir in the vodka and about 1/4 cup of the hot pasta water.  Stir in the cream and the hot pepper flakes and let the mixture simmer, stirring frequently, until it looks smooth and creamy.  Reserve another quarter cup of the pasta water then drain the pasta.  Add the pasta to the tomato mixture, stirring well until the ingredients are well combined, adding a  little more pasta water if needed.  Add a couple of spoonsful of Parmesan and pass the rest of the cheese at the table along with some olive oil.

*         *         *

We found this dish to be very wine friendly.  The reds we tried worked better than the whites, but the one white we are recommending proved to be a wonderfully refreshing partner.  Our recommendation, then, is to choose a favorite wine (just don’t go for fiercely tannic ones), and enjoy!
   

Selection

Approx.
Price

Comments

 

Anciano,

Valdepennas

(Spain)

Tempranillo

“Classico”

2017

(Imported by Well-Oiled Wine)

 

 

$13

 

An old-fashioned Spanish red, marked by spice even more than fresh fruit, this is an excellent value.  The notes resembling dill, rosemary, and lavender are what made it such a good partner with our pasta.

 

 

 

 

Domaine des Herbauges,

VDP Val de Loire

France

Grolleau Gris

2017

(Imported by Lanterna)

 

$15

 

An obscure grape native to the Loire Valley, Grolleau Gris is marked by crisp acidity and citrus-laced flavors.  The acidity let it stand up to the tomato sauce, and the wine was a delightful surprise. 

 

 

Valdipiatta,

Chianti Colli Senese

Italy

2016

(Imported by Winebow)

 

 

$17

 

Again, the acidity that characterizes good Tuscan reds, is what enabled this wine to hold together and enhance the dish.  The dusty, dry flavors only added to its appeal. 

 

 

 

Zabú,

Sicilia

Italy

Nero d’Avola

2018

(Imported by Empson USA)

 

 

           $17

 

Lusher and smoother on the palate than the other reds we are recommending, this Nero-d'Avola showed the effect of Sicilian heat.  Its flavors complemented the dish nicely.

 

 

 

 

Zonin,

Rosso Veronese

Italy

“Alenara”
2016

(Imported by Winebow)

 

 

$18

 

Coming from a more northern clime, this wine shows the effect of cooler growing conditions.  It’s taut rather than lavish and tangy rather than smooth.  Given how lush the dish is, it provides a welcome contrast on the palate.