Easy, Healthier Penne Alla Vodka

27 Oct

Until last night, I’d never made Penne Alla Vodka. Two good reasons: ten thousand steps and ingredients, and heavy cream.

Who cooks with heavy cream? Christmas Eve, yes. Wedding, yes. Even birthday. Fine. But for a regular old Tuesday? I think not.

Then, I learned a secret. In almost every recipe that doesn’t involve actually whipping the cream, evaporated skim milk makes a darn tasty substitute. Open a can, and voila. Calories are slashed. Fat is slashed. Recipes that hereunto made you shudder in your skinny jeans are suddenly realistic, even for a regular old Tuesday. You get the same yummy creaminess without the dietary disaster.

This was a Giada recipe I doctored up a bit. Evaporated skim milk for the heavy cream, with a little more than she called for because I like this a little creamier. Jarred pasta sauce for her homemade tomato (which is delicious and great and freezable, but I didn’t have the time to make it or the forethought to have made it previously and frozen it).

I used shredded Parmesan in this. You should not. You’ll notice the photo above is not mine. That’s because shredded Parmesan doesn’t melt down and my sauce was a bit more…um…textured than I’d have liked. Ugly. Tasty, but ugly. So save your plates and use the grated kind. Even out of the green can. It’ll work in this. Sprinkle some shredded on top when it’s plated if you want.

I used the full cup of vodka called for in the recipe, and you could definitely taste it. Cook it down. When you think it’s ready, let it go awhile longer. Cooking it down will get rid of most of that alcohol bite. I liked it, but I can see where it would be too much for some people. In fact, you might consider using 1/2 cup your first time out with this. See what you think. You can always go up on it next time.

I learned making this that vodka boils quite violently. Keep a watchful eye on your pot and your burner temperature. You really want a simmer. And taste it before you add the milk so you don’t wind up with a table full of loopy people after dinner.

The recipe I started with said this would yield 6 servings, and that’s pretty accurate. You don’t need to drown your penne with the sauce–there’s lots of flavor in it.

To make this, you’ll need:

32 oz prepared marinara sauce (that’s one 28 oz jar and a scant cup of another)

1/2 to 1 cup vodka

3/4 cup evaporated skim milk

1/2 cup grated (not shredded) Parmesan cheese, plus more cheese for topping

In a heavy pot over medium heat, stir together the sauce and vodka. Simmer, uncovered, adjusting burner as necessary, for about 30 – 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until it reduces by about 1/5 and the alcohol taste is gone.

Stir in the milk and heat through. Stir in cheese and heat until it’s melted and combined into the sauce. Pour over cooked noodles, garnish, and enjoy.


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