What? No pasta?
It was a somewhat shocking realisation. Reeni’s recent post on pasta as her muse alerted me to the fact that pasta has not gotten so much as a look in here at The Daily Spud. I count precisely one passing mention of that most Italian of foodstuffs since this little blog started. What’s with that, exactly? It’s not like I don’t like it or anything.
I guess it may have something to do with the fact that, while pasta and spuds may not be arch-rivals, they do, except for gnocchi, have a tendency to give each other a wide berth at the dinner table. Smitten Kitchen’s recent recipe for penne with potato and rocket may be the exception that proves that particular rule. For most people, it’s an either/or proposition, and given the dominance of the spud in this jurisdiction, pasta got relegated to the sidelines, apparently unloved. Amends needs must be made. How’s about a simple tomato-based sauce to start.
This sauce uses that French mirepoix trio of onion, carrot and celery, along with some garlic and tomato. The kicker is the vodka, which encourages the tomatoes to give up their alcohol-soluble flavours. I only lately happened upon the use of vodka in tomato sauce, though I have, er, happened upon other uses for vodka before this. You can, of course, use wine or even port instead, and they bring their own flavours along. The vodka seemed to let the tomatoes shine and left me wondering, in a good way, what the hell just happened to my sauce. As for the addition of toasted sunflower seeds, I’ve been putting them in my tomato-y pasta concoctions since approximately forever.
Spud’s Inaugural Pasta Sauce w/ Tomatoes & Vodka
This is just a particular incarnation of a simple pasta sauce that happened in my kitchen lately. To get the low-down on a general framework for putting together this kind of pasta sauce, you would do well to check out Jenni’s guidelines for same.
- Enough of whatever pasta takes your fancy. 100g of dried pasta makes for a large dinner portion, so somewhere between 50g and 100g per person, depending on how hungry you all are. I never actually weigh pasta, I just throw in what looks like enough. The sauce below makes enough for 2-3 pasta eaters.
The Saucy Stuff:
- 1 large onion (around 150-200g), finely chopped
- 1 large carrot (around 150-200g), diced
- 2 sticks celery, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tblsp tomato puree
- 1x400g tin of tomatoes
- approx 60 ml vodka
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp salt or to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tblsps sunflower seeds
- olive oil for frying
The Finishing Touches:
- a splash of olive oil
- a small pat of butter
- some shavings of parmesan cheese
- chopped flat leaf parsley
- Heat your pan over a medium heat and add some olive oil, enough to coat the pan well.
- Add the garlic, onion, carrot, celery and a good pinch of salt to the pan. Stir well so that the veg get coated in the oil.
- Lower the heat, cover and let the veggies sweat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions should be translucent (but don’t let them brown or burn) and the carrot and celery should have started to soften a little.
- Uncover, add the tomato puree and stir and fry for a couple of minutes.
- Now add the vodka and stir and fry for another minute or two.
- Take your dried basil and (as Jenni recommends), take it in one hand, and rub with the thumb of your other hand to release some of their oils.
- Add the dried basil, the tin of tomatoes, the remaining salt and a few twists of black pepper to the pan. Stir and bring the whole lot to a simmer, adding a little water to the pan if the mixture appears too thick.
- Cover again and simmer for around 30 minutes, or until the carrot and celery are well softened.
- Meanwhile, heat a small heavy pan over a medium high heat and toss in the sunflower seeds. Allow them to toast for a few minutes until they start to turn brown, stirring frequently. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- You can also use this opportunity to cook your pasta in lots of boiling salted water until al dente. Once the pasta is done, drain, but reserve about half a cup of the pasta cooking liquid.
- When the sauce is cooked, add the toasted sunflower seeds and stir to mix.
- When you’re ready to serve and want to finish the dish like a pro, do like Jenni does:
- Return the pasta to its pan and place it over a high heat. Add a splash of olive oil, a small pat of butter, some shavings of parmesan, the pasta sauce and the reserved cooking liquid. Stir around for a minute or two while it sputters, then transfer to your plates of choice. Top with more grated cheese if you like and with the chopped parsley.
The Endless Variations:
- Use red peppers instead of carrot and celery and you’ve got peperonata.
- Add some chopped chorizo just before the end of cooking.
- Use oregano instead of basil.
- Use red wine instead of vodka.
- I could go on, but you get the idea…
- About 3 servings of sauce, or 2 if you have really hungry people.