Recently I have begun to cut back on the amount of meat my family consumes. No, I am not venturing towards vegetarianism. I love meat,but scaling back on the number of meals I serve that feature this protein allows me to explore more interesting options.
This was not an easy task to take on coming from a home, as I did, where there was meat at every meal. My mother would never entertain the idea of eliminating meat from a family meal. Even when she made a pot of beans there was always smoky pieces of hamhock to add flavor as well as sustenance. Sucking the fatty, salty meat from the bones was a highlight of dinner. On busy mornings if there wasn’t enough time for a full breakfast, she would quickly fry pieces of bacon for us to have with our frosted flakes before we went off to school.
Not having meat at every meal has become liberating. On the nights I choose not to cook meat, I don’t have to sit staring at a block of raw packaged meat wondering what could I possibly do to it that would make it any different from the last time I cooked it.
Going meatless during the winter can present a challenge. Although you can serve a simple salad during the warmer months, in the colder months you need something a bit more substantial.
A pasta dish always works well. Its quick to make and by adding vegetables either in the recipe or to serve as a side dish you can turn it into a well-balanced meal.
Penne with vodka sauce is a favorite in my home. It has tomatoes, cream and cheese. Whats not to love? I boost the flavor by roasting the whole tomatoes to give them a sort of sun-dried tomato taste, without the sweetness and chew of an actual sun-dried tomato.
Recipe: Penne with Vodka Sauce
3 Tablespoons butter
1 small onion finely diced
2 fat cloves of garlic minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 28-ounce can whole peeled plum tomatoes seeded, drained and juices reserved
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup + 2 Tablespoons vodka
1/2 c heavy cream
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
Fresh basil (optional)
Preheat oven to 475 degrees
In a medium saucepan over medium heat melt the butter. Add the onions, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook stirring occasionally about five minutes until the onions are soft and the garlic is fragrant. Be careful and not burn the garlic.
Add the crushed tomatoes and reserved tomato juice to the pan and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low, partially cover the saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally about twenty minutes until the sauce has thickened. While the sauce is cooking roast the tomatoes.
Open up the seeded whole tomatoes so they lay flat. Place them on a rimmed, foil-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the sugar and drizzle over the olive oil. Roast the tomatoes about fifteen minutes, being careful to not burn.
When the tomatoes have finished roasting add to the sauce breaking them into smaller pieces with the back of a spoon. Don’t worry if they are not completely broken up the sauce will be pureed slightly. Carefully add the vodka to the sauce and continue to cook about ten minutes more until most of the alcohol has evaporated.
Using an immersion blender puree the sauce. Do not puree until completely smooth, you want some chunks to give the sauce texture.
Meanwhile, bring about four quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add one tablespoon of salt and the pasta and cook pasta until al dente according to package directions. Reserve one cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta well, shaking to remove excess water.
Stir the heavy cream into the sauce and warm slightly. Add the drained pasta to the sauce and stir well. If the pasta seems dry add the reserved pasta water to loosen it. Stir in the half cup pecorino romano and toss to combine. Tear the basil into small pieces and stir into pasta. Serve immediately with more cheese if desired.