Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola

So funny story. I found this recipe for a pasta sauce over the weekend - and was instantly drawn to it for two reasons. One? Ina Garten was called out in the title. Two? I thought it took 11 hours to make. I literally was planning my day around making this 11 hour sauce. I told several people that it was going to take 11 hours. Turns out... it takes about 20% of that time. A two-hour sauce is nothing to shake a fist at - but it is a far cry from the extravaganza that I was planning.

It wasn't until I got to the end that I realized this sauce is pretty much like my own roasted tomato sauce. There are a few differences of course - I'm no Ina Garten. But the minute I pulled the lid from pot, I could smell the insane caramelized flavor of the tomatoes. There is nothing like it in the world.

Other gems that came from this recipe? Having to buy vodka. Vodka isn't something that comes up on my grocery list all that often - or my cocktail menu for that matter. I tried to avoid a trip the store by checking my parents cabinet. No vodka but 3 types of tequila and a bunch of Baileys. I'm 100% sure that the guy at the liquor store was not entertained when I told him I didn't care what type of vodka and that I only needed a cup. He clearly doesn't cook - ever - because he suggested buying nips.

So here's how it goes. 

  1. Heat oven to 375° F.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) ovenproof sauté pan—the pan should have a tight-fitting lid (if you don't have one, use a Dutch oven)—over medium heat, uncovered. Add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook for 1 more minute. Add the vodka and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture is reduced by half.
  3. Add the cans of tomatoes (including juice) to the pot. Use a wooden spoon to break them up a bit - but don't try to be perfect about it. Add 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and place it in the oven for 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente. Drain and return to the pot.
  5. Place the tomato mixture in a blender and puree in batches until the sauce is a smooth consistency. Return to the pan.
  6. Reheat the sauce, add 1 tablespoon fresh oregano and enough heavy cream to make the sauce a creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the sauce to the pasta, reserving any excess, and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Serve with an additional sprinkle of Parmesan and a sprinkle of fresh oregano on each plate. Save any extra sauce for more pasta or vodka pizza with fresh mozzarella.
Shopping List
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup vodka
2 28-ounce cans peeled plum tomatoes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound penne
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, plus extra for serving
1 cup heavy cream (or less, to taste)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

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