An impromptu dinner party.

Originally posted February 2012.

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I hadn’t planned on feeding six people on a Thursday night, though I did invite pretty much everyone who could see my Facebook page over for penne with vodka sauce and garlic bread. Not only because I happen to like my friends. And cooking. And feeding people. But I was supposed to make dinner for my sister, who is in Jersey with her two awesome dogs until May, while her husband finishes up his combat training in Texas. But she had to cancel, so I had lots of pasta and bread and a hunk of pancetta roughly the size of my head, and there was no way I was letting any of that go to waste, or even go uneaten. I had gotten myself psyched up. I was going to make this dinner, even if I had no one to share it with but my cat.

But, I invited over my former roommate, and Colin came home with three of our friends in tow, so pasta for two or three quickly became pasta for six. (I was so glad I’d grabbed extra cans of tomato sauce on my last trip to the grocery store.)

And while normally, sitcoms and movies would have you believe that last-minute dinner parties are enough to turn you into this — or this — I was totally in my element, and happy to spend the night with a group of awesome people.

To be fair, I probably had it easy, since I had planned on cooking for at least one other person, and penne with vodka sauce isn’t a tremendously complex dish. It’s the perfect meal for a casual night with a group of people. It can be adapted in any number of ways (adding chicken, shrimp or pancetta) or just left plain and vegetarian friendly. It seems to be a pretty universally-liked dish, and while it would probably be killer with totally-made-from-scratch sauce, using plain, canned tomato sauce is quicker and incredibly easy to doctor up. Heck, you can even omit the vodka and just opt for a creamy tomato sauce, if you’re trying to do things booze-free. 

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Clearly, not how I roll.

You can serve it on its own (especially if you’re adding something like chicken or shrimp), or serve it with a nice Caesar salad, or wilted greens, or garlic bread. If you just want to be Superman or Wonder Woman about it, penne with vodka sauce can be merely your side dish to something spectacular. Your possibilities are endless, people!

Penne with vodka sauce (serves 6 with leftovers)

2 lbs pasta (it doesn’t HAVE to be penne. You can use ziti or mostaccioli, if you’re feeling like a rebel.)
1 large shallot (I’m talking large. Like, onion-sized shallot. Two normal sized one would probably work, if you don’t have weird monster shallots at your local grocery store.)
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb pancetta, cubed
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
3 15-oz cans plain tomato sauce (I used Hunt’s)
1 cup vodka
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
salt, pepper & red pepper flakes, to taste 
grated parmesan (optional) 

Heat olive oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add your shallot, garlic and panetta and cook until shallots start to soften, or about 2-3 minutes. Add your vodka and let it reduce by about half, then add your tomato sauce, as well as as your salt, pepper and red-pepper flakes, if you’d like to give the sauce a little kick, turn the heat down low, and allow it to simmer for about a half-hour.

While your sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and pasta and allow to cook about 10-15 minutes, depending on how firm or tender (alright, I hear Colin sniggering at my choice of words, so go ahead and pull your mind out of the gutter right now) you like your pasta.

Once your sauce is done, add the cream and stir, until your sauce turns agorgeous orangey-red, that probably wouldn’t look gorgeous at all if it wasn’t a delectable sauce you were about to slather all over your pasta. Hey, I’m more of a neutrals/earth-tones gal. Sue me. Oh, and stir in some grated parmesan, if that’s your bag. And really, isn’t it everyone’s bag?

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Drain your pasta, then pour your sauce over your pasta, making sure to coat every last piece. You don’t want any little pennes not feeling the love of this sauce. If you’re a big pancetta fan, like me, you can fry up some extra cubes and sprinkle it over your serving. Which is what I did tonight, to my leftovers, which I am eating right now. Also, you can top your pasta with even MORE grated parmesan, if you’re a hedonistic glutton. Which isn’t an insult… not coming from me, anyway. If you’re a hedonistic glutton (especially if you’re this guy), we’d probably be really good friends.

Also, if you’re really awesome (which you are, I’m sure), you can make garlic bread!

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Garlic bread

1 loaf Italian bread
1 stick butter, softened
5 cloves garlic, mashed and minced
grated parmesan (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Slice your loaf of bread in half, then half those so Combine your butter, garlic and parmesan into a paste, then spread it over the bread. Place your bread on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. If you’d like your bread to be a bit crispier, put it under the broiler for about 2 minutes.

Happy eating!

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2 thoughts on “An impromptu dinner party.

  1. Pingback: Veal chops with caramelized shallots. | tuppershare

  2. Pingback: Spaghetti squash gremolata. | tuppershare

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