Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Penne That Made No Sense

Ever green (sometimes with jealously, sure, but for now with the desire to re-use and recycle in the kitchen), we decided it was finally time to do something with all those sundried tomatoes that kindly rehydrated in vodka for us so we could make killer bloody Marys. That's the one thing I can definitely recommend in this story of kitchen disappointment, if not outright sadness--leave some vodka in a mason jar with sundried tomatoes and your bloodys will have a terrific boost, and a spicy one if you drop in a dried chipotle or two too.

You might need a cocktail or two to accompany the rest of this tale, for it turns out that making penne with vodka sauce from pre-sauced sundrieds isn't as good as you might imagine (assuming you imagined the the delicious delight we did). We got our pasta water a-boil, then in a big pot with some olive oil added onion and garlic chopped till it went soft, then in went the drained, chopped sundried tomatoes, lots of them (we didn't measure, thinking if we were making things up, numbers weren't going to help beyond adding a fake patina of science to the otherwise gut-led project). We let that cook awhile, for those tomatoes were truly vodka-rich, and we hoped some of that might steam off. A bit of dried basil went in, and salt and pepper. This was a thick stew, deeply colored past red to russet. After a good 20 minutes or so, we took it off the heat and went at it with the handheld mixer/motor-boat, but even Kitchen Aid (if this were Top Chef, insert product placement close-up here) wasn't tough enough and barely extruded the solid out the little vents. So we started with the half and half (hoping we didn't need heavy cream, as we certainly don't need anything with heavy as an adjective near us), a splash or two at a time, figuring we'd be saucing soon. More cream. More motorboat. Not so soon. So in went some pasta water, one of the kitchen's greatest re-use tricks from cooks way back. Eventually we got to a pesto-y paste, hoping that would be enough. A bit of fresh chopped basil and some Grana padano got stirred in.

Once the penne cooked, we drained it, and dumped that into the briefly back on the heat sludge, er, sauce, hoping a bit more moisture might lighten things a bit. It certainly stuck to the tubes well.

As for the taste test, of all things the texture wasn't the biggest problem, for it did seem pesto-esque, if made of different ingredients. Somehow all those sundrieds leaked too much of their tomatoeyness into the vodka, for the sauce didn't seem nearly tomatoey enough. Next time, if there is one, some canned tomato might get mixed in, hoping different registers of the nightshade's favorite fruit might get the sauce to sing. Or at least drip a little bit--this one clung to the wooden stirring spoon like cement that had time to settle.

Perhaps the problem itself is trying to create a dish that seems a bit dubious at best, as Eye-talian as Chico Marx, but who are you going to believe, me or your own taste-buds?

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