"Penne alla Vodka" - why vodka?!

48
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Joined Apr 7, 2003
One of my dear friends spent her university years in Italy, and is as a result a very fine purveyor of Italian cuisine. She recently supplied me with a recipe for her personal version of penne alla vodka. Here it is, straight from the horse's mouth:

My main question: why cook with vodka? I can understand a sauce with sherry, cognac, wine - heck, even Jack Daniels - because they all add flavour. Good vodka doesn't taste like much, and I was under the impression that the alcohol evaporates out anyway. I shot back an email to my friend asking her about this. Here's her reply:

I'm stumped - is she correct? If so, then why do so many recipes call for vodka that is not steeped in pepper?
 
5
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Joined Mar 25, 2003
A couple of things.

Capsicum, the stuff that causes chile peppers to be hot, cannot be dissolved in water, but it will dissolve in alcohol (that's why having an alcoholic beverage at the ready is a good idea when you're eating really hot food--it more thoroughly rinses your mouth). When you soak the chile flakes in high-proof alchohol and add it to the dish, it helps evenly distribute the heat, rather than having really hot little bits scattered throughout. You can accomplish much the same thing by grinding the flakes into a fine powder and omitting the vodka.

Why do so many recipes call for vodka? Um, can't help you there. I own something like 50 cookbooks, and I've read thousands of other recipes in magazines, on the internet, etc. Yours is the first recipe I've ever seen that calls for vodka....
 
467
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Joined Jan 11, 2002
Brie,

in Italy, Penne alla Vodka belong to the traditional repertoire of bad restaurants, together with other dishes like "Tagliata alla Rucola", "Filetto al Pepe Verde", "Penne all'Indiana" (obviously with a curry sauce) and so on.
They must be born with the purpose to serve something "Russian", since Vodka is often coupled in those sauces with caviar and/or smoked salmon.
Honestly, I don't know whether a more "technical" reason exists for adding Vodka to a pasta sauce...but personally I can't recommend that you do it. As I said, it's a bad restaurants' trick.

Pongi;)
 

phatch

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What I've read is the vodka thing was an addition that first occurred in the US (according to Jeff Smith). There are good and bad versions. Nick Stellino did one on PBS over the weekend that wouldn't have been to my taste with the salmon he used.

I agree somewhat with Pongi. It's not authentic Italian. But it is certainly in the range and repertoire of Italian-American food. And using vodka doesn't automatically make it bad. But according to Smith, you have to use a cheap vodka that actually has some taste, not the good stuff without taste (as by definition, vodka should have no flavor of its own).

Phil
 
48
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Joined Apr 7, 2003
Heh - looks like I should have gone to the source before opening my trap and looking like a fool:

 
467
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Joined Jan 11, 2002
:lol:

JUST what I was speaking of!

Rome is the native land of tourist traps...

Pongi
 
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