Penne with Vodka and Spicy Tomato-Cream Sauce

serves 6 to 8

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 plump garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes
Sea salt
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 lb. dried tubular pasta, such as Penne
2 tablespoons vodka (for extra spicy, try Absolute Peppar!)
1/2 cup heavy cream (can substitute 1/2 and 1/2)
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, snipped with scissors*

In an unheated skillet large enough to hold the pasta later on, combine oil, garlic, crushed red peppers, and a pinch of salt, stirring to coat with oil. Cook over moderate heat just until the garlic turns golden, but doesn’t brown, about 2-3 minutes. Stir to blend; simmer, uncovered, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and the penne, stirring to prevent the pasta from sticking. Cook until tender but firm to the bite. Drain thoroughly.

Add the drained pasta to the skillet with the tomato sauce. Toss. Add the vodka, toss again, then add the cream and toss. Cover, reduce heat to low, and let rest for 1 to 2 minutes to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce. Add the parsley and toss again. Transfer to warmed shallow soup bowls and serve immediately. (Traditionally, cheese is not served with this dish.)

*TIP: To get the most out of your parsley, stem it first, leaving only the leaves. Place the leaves in a large glass or a deep bowl, and snip the leaves with sharp scissors. This prevents it from turning to mush as is often the case when using a knife or the food processor.

From: Patricia Wells’ Trattoria, by Patricia Wells