Tuesday dinner: Penne alla vodka with sauteed shrimp

It’s Tuesday. Last night brought the blessing of leftover quiche (Side note: Leftover quiche is almost better than fresh quiche.) and Wednesday night is all about takeout thanks to a work commitment that will have me driving home around dinner time. So, tonight was going to be one of my two dinners of the week.

It occurred to me late this afternoon that nothing had been defrosted and since I don’t get paid until Thursday, a side trip to Wegmans was out of the question. Pasta seemed like the best option. I did have a bag of shrimp in the freezer, which could be cooked quickly.

Vodka sauce has really caught fire in the past 10 or so years, though it isn’t a traditional Italian sauce. The thought is that alcohol releases flavors in the tomatoes that are not found simply through heat. Wine is the typical Italian standby, but vodka is just as effective. The alcohol cooks away as the sauce reduces, leaving a concentrated flavor. The brand is irrelevant, as the booze evaporates in the end. Grey Goose would be a waste; the cheap stuff is just as good. (I suppose you could use a hot pepper vodka like Absolut Peppar.) We just happened to have an open bottle of Stoli.

I like a creamy vodka sauce, so the half-and-half is as important as the booze (most recipes call for heavy cream). It can standalone as a red sauce, but you’ll rarely find it served in a restaurant that way.

Ideally, I would have defrosted and peeled the shrimp before cooking (The Wife hates peeling her own), but time was of the essence tonight.

Penne alla vodka with sauteed shrimp
By Jared Paventi

  • 2 14-16 oz. cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (divided)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup vodka
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half, measured in advance and allowed to
  • 1 lb. shrimp
  • juice and grated zest of one lemon

Heat olive oil and half of the garlic in a medium saucepan over high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the tomatoes and saute five minutes. Add the vodka, reduce the heat to medium high and cook an addition 10-15 minutes, or until the liquid falls beneath the tomatoes. Reduce heat to low.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt it to your preference and cook the pasta per the directions on the box.

Mix the lemon zest and juice, 2 tbsp. olive oil, salt and the remaining garlic with a spoon to emulsify. Toss with the shrimp and saute 5-7 minutes until pink. Remove from heat.

Before removing the shrimp from heat, add the cream to the tomato sauce and mix thoroughly. Add to a serving bowl and toss with the shrimp. Combine the pasta and sauce, and serve hot.

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