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Best. Vodka sauce. Ever.

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I recently watched an episode of The Barefoot Contessa in which she featured a recipe from Joe Realmuto, executive chef of Nick and Toni’s, an Italian restaurant in the Hamptons.

I’ve never been particularly interested in making or eating anything with a vodka sauce.  I don’t know why, but for some reason the idea of putting vodka in my food really threw me off.  But after seeing the way Chef Realmuto prepared this dish on the program, and watching both he and Ina Garten “ooooohhhhh” and “aaaaahhhhh” about how amazing it was, I figured I had to try it out.  And boy am I glad I did.  This will absolutely, without a doubt be a go-to of mine for dinner parties (and lazy, rainy Sunday evenings) for a long time to come.

Although time-consuming, with the exception of a couple tedious steps the preparation of this sauce is fairly easy.  First, simply chop up a medium-sized yellow onion and finely mince 3 garlic cloves.  Throw them into a large dutch oven (that has a cover and is oven-proof) with 1/4 cup olive oil.  Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent.

Next, add in 1/2 tsp of red chili flakes and 1 1/2 tsp oregano and cook for about 1 minute more.  Now, this may seem like a lot of oregano, but this makes a lot of sauce, and the flavor really adds a lot to the final product.  After a minute, add 1 full cup of vodka and cook until the mixture reduces by half.

While the mixture is reducing, strain two (2) 28 oz. cans of whole, peeled tomatoes.  I use San Marzano because I personally think they are the most flavorful, but any brand you like will be just fine. (Helpful tip – save the juice you strain from the tomatoes and either freeze it into cubes for future flavoring of soups, stews, and sauces, or for homemade bloody mary mix).

After the mixture has reduced by about half…

… using your hands, crush the tomatoes into the pot – being very careful to do so slowly, lest you end up with a shirt covered with tomato juice/seeds (like I did).  For those of you not used to working with your hands, this may seem sort of gross, but there’s something actually really nice about doing something with your hands instead of a kitchen tool.

Once all the tomatoes have been crushed into the sauce, add in 1/2 tsp of black pepper, 2 tsp of salt, stir well then cover the pot and place into a pre-heated 375 degree oven.  Cook covered for 1 1/2 hours, after which the tomatoes will look something like this.

Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes or so, and then using a food processor, puree everything in batches until smooth.

Return the pureed sauce to the dutch oven and reheat, adding another 2 TBSP oregano and enough heavy cream (3/4 cup to a full cup) to give it a silky consistency and deep pink color.

Taste and add more salt/cream if necessary.  Simmer for 10 minutes and then toss in cooked pasta. (Let’s be honest, this meal is ALL about the sauce, so the pasta is totally secondary.)  This time around I chose rigatoni, but any large shape with a lot of space to fill like penne or shells, will be just fine.  If you’re a cheese lover, add 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan.  But even without, it will be DELISH.  Make this dish… seriously.  It’s that good.

Serve with slices of country bread and a light green salad with a simple vinaigrette.  Good wine pairings for this would be a light bodied red such as Beaujolais, Cote du Rhone, or even a Rose.  Verdicchio would be a nice white option.

Happy eating!