Penne alla Vodka

img_0757

Penne alla vodka is a popular Italian-American dish.  The sauce is rich, creamy and delicious.  I like to use pancetta to give it a little extra flavor, but you can also use prosciutto.

Ingredients:

1 – medium onion diced
3 – cloves garlic smashed
4 – oz. pancetta finely chopped
1 – 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/4 – tsp. pepperoncini (red pepper flake)
2 – tbls. butter
1/3 – cup vodka
1/4 – cup heavy cream
1 – lb. penne pasta
4 – fresh basil leaves
2 – tbls. fresh chopped parsley

Directions:

Put on a large pot of water to boil.   Dice the onion and peel the garlic.  Heat 2 tbls. extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the diced onion and garlic and sauté until translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

Slice the pancetta in small, very thin pieces.  Push the onions and garlic to one side of the skillet and add the pancetta and cook it until it begins to brown.  Add the pepperoncini and cook one minute more.

img_0740

Pour the vodka into the skillet to deglaze the pan.  Use a spatula to loosen all the browned bits and stir until mixed well.  Lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by one-quarter  Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, black pepper, basil and parsley.  Continue cooking about 10 minutes.

At this point the water should be boiling.  Add salt to the water and the pasta.  Cook until al dente (a little firm to the bite).  Continue cooking the sauce until the pasta is ready.

Just before the pasta is ready, remove the garlic from the sauce and add the cream and butter, stir to mix into the sauce.

img_0746

Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce and mix.  Top with parmigiana-reggiano cheese and fresh parsley.

img_0748

Serve immediately.

Buon appetito!




Icebox Cake

ice-box-cake

If you like custard or cream desserts, you will love this Icebox Cake.  This was my father’s favorite dessert.  Mom would make it for him every year for his birthday instead of a traditional cake.  There are similar desserts out there that use sweet crackers and pudding in a layered dessert, but this one is brought to the highest level.  Mom always made her own cream, never a boxed pudding, and she topped the cake off with a meringue made from the left over egg whites.  I use instead a home-made whipped cream topping because I like it better, but feel free to make the meringue.  Everyone that I have  served this to has loved it.  Give it a try…I’m sure you will like it too.

Ingredients for the cream:

5 – cups whole milk
1 – cup sugar
3 – heaping tbls. cornstarch
6 – egg yolks (well beaten)
1 1/2 – tsp. pure vanilla extract

Other ingredients:

3 – bananas 
30 – whole graham crackers (you will need more than one box)

Directions to make the pastry cream:

In a large sauce pan, add 4 cups of whole milk and 1/2 cup sugar.  Heat the mixture over a medium flame until it is dissolved.  Stir often to avoid burning the milk.

In the meantime, mix together in a bowl, the rest of the sugar, cornstarch, and the remaining cup of milk.  Mix until the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved.

In another bowl, separate the yolks from the egg whites and add the vanilla to the yolks.  With a fork whisk the yolks until smooth and add them to the cold milk mixture.  Blend the yolk mixture slowly into the hot milk mixture. Drizzle a little at a time into the hot milk while stirring constantly.  Do this slowly so that the eggs do not curdle.

Cook the cream on a medium-low flame, stirring constantly until thickened about 15-20 minutes.  Toward the end of the cook time, the cream will start to form bubbles on the surface, indicating that it is starting to come to a boil.  Check the flame and lower just a little to keep it at a simmer.  The bubbles are a sign that the cream is almost ready.  The consistency of the cream is a little loose, but do not let this worry you.  It will thicken in the refrigerator.

 

Assemble the cake:

In an 8″ x 12″ glass baking pan place a layer of graham crackers. graham-cracker-layerUse a ladle to pour about one cup of cream on top of the crackers, and spread evenly. Next add a layer of thinly sliced bananas.

banana-and-cream-layer

Repeat the layers two more times then top off with a layer of graham crackers.  This pan will accommodate three layers of cream/bananas with final graham cracker top.

Now its time to make the whipped cream.

Ingredients for whipped cream:

1 – pint whipping cream
2 – tbls. powered sugar
1 1/2 – tsp. pure vanilla extract

Directions:

Pour the cold cream into a mixing bowl.  Add the powdered sugar and vanilla.  Use a mixer on high and whip the cream until it is thick enough to make peaks in the cream and remain on the beaters without falling off.  This doesn’t take long, so be careful not to over whip the cream because it will curdle.

whipped-cream

 

Spread the whipped cream over the top layer of graham crackers. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 6 hours before serving.  You can leave it overnight if you have to.

Just before serving, take on graham cracker and crumble it.  Sprinkle the crumbs over the top of the cake.  Enjoy!

Servings:  12