Tuesday, August 29, 2006

penne à la vodka + belgian brownies

penne a la vodka

I have no doubt I’m opening a can of worms here, but I really don’t see the point of the classic foodie hobby, Rachael Ray Bashing. Sure, her voice is unnecessarily loud, and it makes you wonder why her supposedly caring producers wouldn’t tell her to cut back on all the yelling; of course, the (trademarked) EVOO is hideously annoying; and yeah, that FHM photo shoot was, at best, a cry for attention, but in the kitchen? The 30-minute meals? How did these become the enemy?

Yes, her knife skills are lacking, but guess what? So are mine. Yes, she relies a bit on pre-processed ingredients, but I’ve got no beef with canned tomatoes, beans and frozen peas when you are short on time. Yes, she lacks finesse but hello! I’m a big as a dork as anyone, and yet you are still here. To be honest, I often parallel her cooking to Oprah’s Book Club. (At the rate she’s earning, she’ll be as loaded as Oprah in a couple years, which is what I suspect is actually what irks people.) For the most part, the books aren’t to my taste but I won’t begrudge a woman who got thousands of Americans back into reading. In the realm of food, I can think of more worthy nightmares to dump on (ahem).

This kind of brings me to the only recipe of hers I have ever cooked: penne a la vodka. What drew me in? Well, to be honest, everything her packagers promised: It looked easy. I had the stuff on hand. It didn’t take long to make. And best yet, it had a showiness to it that readied it for prime time, or in this case, an early date with my now-husband, and the first time I had ever cooked for him.

le pain quotidien belgian brownies

People, this is a good recipe, and a gentle reminder that not all spectacular home cooked meals need to warrant hours at the stove. Yesterday was our first wedding anniversary, and caught up in swoonful nostalgia, I cooked it again, throwing in some Belgian brownies we’ve been ogling on the Wednesday Chef for some time now, for desert. It was a fantastic dinner, and these recipes are keepers.

Oh, one more little thing. The pasta dish has one of those really cringe-worthy names her hate club likes to slam her for (and it’s embarrassing for me, too, to admit that I allowed it into my kitchen): You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta. But the even scarier part is that I wasn’t.


You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta
From Rachael Ray

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, once around the pan in a slow stream
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 cup vodka
1 cup chicken stock
1 can crushed tomatoes (32 ounces)
Coarse salt and pepper
16 ounces pasta, such as penne rigate
1/2 cup heavy cream
20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn

Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, butter, garlic, and shallots. Gently saute shallots for 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness. Add vodka to the pan, 3 turns around the pan in a steady stream will equal about 1 cup. Reduce vodka by half, this will take 2 or 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until cooked to al dente (with a bite to it). While pasta cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.

Stir cream into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Drain pasta. Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves.

Belgian Brownies
Adapted from Le Pain Quotidien via The Wednesday Chef

Makes 14 brownies

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60 – 64% cacao)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
5 eggs, beaten lightly with a fork
1 1/3 cups superfine sugar
3 tablespoons pastry flour

1. Roughly chop the chocolate into pieces. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl and add the butter. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, until the two ingredients have melted. Mix well and transfer to a large bowl; set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Sift the sugar and flour together, then stir into the chocolate. Add the eggs and mix well. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. The batter will thicken as it stands.

3. Line a muffin tin with cupcake papers. Spoon one-fourth cup batter into each paper-lined cup. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. The brownies will still be moist when done; they will puff up and fall slightly as they cool.


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