For us, invitations to Sunday dinner were pretty fantastic, especially near the beginning of our stay when we were still trying to figure out which way was up. For real. Loved getting to know all those good people, hearing their stories, and also, loved any tips I could gather about travel and food and schools and life in China.
This particular Sunday we were treated with this pasta that all of us fell head-over-heels in love with. I was pretty sure I could drink that sauce it was so good. So I took this horrible picture of the recipe:
And we have made it countless times since then.
Or Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola (adapted from The Barefoot Contessa)
We dubbed it “Nichol’s Pasta” because the Nichol family introduced us to that dreamy stuff.
I cannot believe I haven’t written up this recipe here yet, especially since every time I make it I’m trying to decipher the instructions from that dumb picture I took. It’s a family recipe we’ll want to have forever so I figure I better put it here in the blog for easy look-up.
So, here we go.
I’m going to have “mini” Claire show us how it’s done (I obviously was going to try to write this up a long time ago, and took these pictures with good intentions back when Claire was like three feet shorter and practically a baby, but really probably only a year or so ago…that girl has grown like a WEED lately!)…there are some guest appearances of Grace as well.
Nichol's Vodka Pasta Sauce
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- 2 1/2 c. chopped Spanish onion (or whatever you have on hand)
- 1 Tbs. garlic (about 3 cloves)
- 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (more or less depending on how spicy you like it)
- 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 c. vodka anyone worried about using vodka for cooking, cooking wine works great
- 2 (28-oz.) cans whole peeled plum tomatoes, drained
- 3/4 lb. penne pasta
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano leaves (I don't often have this, darn it, and although it's definitely better with it, it's also fine without
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I often omit this as well if I don't have it on hand)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Heat the oil and saute onions and garlic over medium heat until onions are translucent (about 5 minutes).
- Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook for a minute or so more.
- Add the vodka or cooking wine and simmer for 5-7 minutes to let the flavors seep in.
- Using clean hands, crush each tomato from the can into the pan. (Extra fun for kids to crush food with their bare hands 🙂
- Add 2 tsp. of salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- Bake this mixture in the oven to let the flavors deepen. You're supposed to do this in an oven-proof pot (see below, as well as my initial substitute).
- Bake at 375 degrees for an hour and a half. That's an awful lot of time that sometimes I have, and sometimes I don't. But do your best and it still works out fine!
- While it is cooking, cook the pasta according to package directions and set aside.
- Once the pasta is cooked, blend that cooked tomato mixture in the blender. Or use an immersion blender (see notes below).
- Add the blended mixture back to the pot.
- Add the heavy cream, fresh oregano, 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper and simmer for a few minutes.
- Then you're ready to serve it up! The recipe calls to pour the sauce over the pasta, add parmesan cheese and a little more fresh oregano to garnish if you have them.
Over the years I have learned a much better way to blend…use one of these little puppies:
This little Cuisinart Smart Stick makes it so easy and takes away all the mess!
This stuff freezes really well so I usually make a huge batch and freeze some in Tupperware so I can have it on hand for friends in need who may need a meal, or US who may need a last-minute meal too!
Some day I’ll come back and add a beautiful finished-product picture right here 🙂
Thank you Nichol family for gifting us that recipe we love so much!