Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lou’s Most Excellent Tomato Cream Vodka Sauce

Jarred vodka sauces are just lousy. They’re too liquidly: it’s like tomato soup. I also think they rely on too much cheese for their flavor (which is wrong). I think I’ve helped solve that problem here.

I love this sauce. It’s great on its own or with pancetta, shrimp, blanched veggies, or any of those combos. Last night I made a version with langoustine tails that I found at Trader Joe’s.

I’m not sure how much the vodka actually contributes to it. Vodka is tasteless for the most part assuming it’s well distilled. You could probably skip it now that I think about it. That said: why? But also you’re not gonna get buzzed off it either. Whatever.

This recipe makes a lot so it’s great for having leftovers available when you need something quick for dinner. I aliquot remaining sauce in 1 quart Ziplock’s and freeze.

I also like Pomi brand tomatoes. They’re the ones in the box and I find they don’t have a metallic taste about them. Second favorite is Bionature but use whatever is available to you.

No olive oil here either: you want creamy and not earthy.

¾ sweet onion, finely chopped (about 1¼ cup)
4 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
3 TBS unsalted butter
1 TBS red pepper flakes
2 TSP finely ground black pepper
1 TSP kosher salt
2 TBS tomato paste
3 TBS flour
1 box or can (28oz) crushed tomatoes
1 box or can (28oz) strained tomatoes
8 fresh basil leaves, chiffoned
¼ cup fresh grated pecorino-romano cheese
¼ cup port
¼ cup vodka
1 cup half & half

Over medium-low heat sweat the onion in the butter and two big pinches of salt for about 10 minutes, until it’s almost mush. Do not brown the onions. When the onion is softened add the red pepper flakes and black pepper, cook for a few minutes more, then add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.

Add flour in 1 TBS increments and stir to mix – this will start thicken like paste. Cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, mix in the tomato paste and cook an additional 5 minutes.

To this add half of the tomatoes and stir until the paste mixed into solution then add the other half. Mix in the basil, cheese and port – combine – and then the vodka. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat and then lower to low/simmer. Stir in the half and half and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes. Add additional salt & pepper to taste.

If adding additional thingies to it here’s what I recommend. Cook them first separately and then set aside. Prior to serving, gently warm them up and add to the sauce. If you let them sit in the sauce too long they’ll overcook (shrimp are a classic case here).

For ultimate laziness you can use precooked shrimp here too. Really. Warm them up in some very hot water right from the tap for about 2 minutes and then throw them in. Voila.

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