Rigatoni with Easy Vodka Sauce

Pasta is definitely my go-to for quick weeknight dishes. Maybe too often! Vodka sauce is one of our absolute favorites, so this vegetarian, quick version was irresistible. I’ve already made it twice. 😉

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Claire Saffitz. On one occasion, I added mushrooms to mimic the amazing version served at Tony’s Di Napoli in NYC. I added more garlic and used mezzi rigatoni as well. Great.

Yield: Serves 4

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 5 oz white mushrooms, sliced, optional
  • 4 oz Parmesan cheese, about 1/2 cup, finely grated
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 4.5-oz tube double-concentrated tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 oz vodka
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 lb rigatoni or mezzi rigatoni
  • basil leaves, for serving
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium. (I used a large, shallow, enameled cast iron pan.)
  3. Add the onion and garlic, stirring constantly, just until the onion is starting to brown around the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. *If incorporating the mushrooms, add after the onions have cooked for 2 minutes.*
  4. Add tomato paste and red pepper flakes and stir to coat onion. Cook, stirring often, until paste is deep red and starting to brown and stick to the bottom of the pot, about 4 to 7 minutes.
  5. Add vodka to deglaze the pan, scraping up browned bits; reduce the heat to low.
  6. Using a heatproof measuring glass, scoop out about 1/4 cup boiling pasta water from the pot. Add heavy cream to the water. (This brings up the temperature of the cream so it won’t break when you add it to the pot.)
  7. Stirring constantly, gradually pour cream mixture into the onion mixture and cook, stirring, until a smooth sauce forms. Remove from heat.
  8. Cook pasta in the pot of boiling water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. About 1 minute before pasta is done, scoop out 1 cup of pasta cooking liquid.
  9. Return the pot with sauce to low heat.
  10. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer the pasta to the sauce pot.
  11. Stir in 1/2 cup of pasta cooking liquid, then gradually add half of the Parmesan, stirring constantly to melt. The pasta should be coated with a smooth, glossy sauce.
  12. Season with salt; add more pasta cooking liquid if sauce is too thick.
  13. Top with basil and remaining Parmesan and drizzle with a little oil, as desired.

Chez Panisse’s Blueberry Cobbler

Yes! I have another summer fruit dessert to share.

I could not wait to make this cobbler as soon as I saw the recipe. 🙂 It was described as “prizing berries above all, using only 1/3 cup of sugar.” The berries cooked into jammy and creamy deliciousness.

This recipe was adapted from Chez Panisse via The New York Times, contributed by Molly O’Neill. I used a biscuit cutter for the topping and modified the baking method. I may consider adding some lemon zest to the berries next time. Yum.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

For the Berries:

  • 4 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

For The Dough:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream, plus additional for serving, if desired
  • vanilla ice cream, for serving, if desired
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. To prepare the berries, place in a bowl and toss with the sugar and flour. Set aside.
  3. To make the dough, mix the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in a bowl.
  4. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cream and mix lightly, just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
  5. Put the blueberries in a 1 1/2-quart gratin or baking dish.
  6. On a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, pat the dough out to 1/2-inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter 2 inches in diameter, cut the dough into rounds. Reform scraps and repeat. (I cut the dough into 12 rounds.)
  7. Arrange dough over the top of the berries, leaving space in between for the berries to bubble through.
  8. Place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven until the topping is brown and the juices bubble thickly around it, about 35 to 40 minutes. (I tented the cobbler with foil after 30 minutes and then baked it for an additional 5 minutes, or until bubbling in the center.)
  9. Let cool slightly. Serve warm, with cream to pour on top or with ice cream on the side, as desired.

Nectarine & Blueberry Tart

I especially loved this beautiful tart because in addition to being delicious, it is made with a flaky and buttery press-in crust and a cheesecake-like no-bake filling. Nice shortcuts! I topped it with my favorite summer fruit- white nectarines. The original recipe uses peaches which would also be fabulous.

This recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living. The chilled temperature and brightness from lemon zest made it very refreshing.

Yield: One 9 or 10-inch tart, about 8 to 10 servings

  • 1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F, preferably on convection.
  2. Beat butter with confectioners’ sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  3. Reduce speed to medium-low; add flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt and beat until just combined and crumbly (do not overmix).
  4. Press evenly into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch square tart pan or a 9- or 10-inch round tart pan, with a removable bottom.
  5. Dock bottom at 1-inch intervals with the tines of a fork. Freeze 15 minutes.
  6. Place on rimmed baking sheet or pizza tin, and bake until golden brown and set, 23 to 33 minutes. Let cool completely. (Crust can be kept at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for up to 3 days.)
  7. Beat together cream cheese, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon juice, and 1/4 cup granulated sugar on medium-high speed until creamy.
  8. With mixer running, slowly add cream and beat until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. (You should have about 2 cups.)
  9. Spread mixture into crust; refrigerate 1 to 2 hours.
  10. Meanwhile, using a vegetable peeler, peel peaches/nectarines, if desired; cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges. (I left the peels intact.)
  11. Transfer to a bowl and stir in berries and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
  12. Just before serving, spoon macerated fruit over tart and drizzle some of juice from bowl over it. (I used all of the juice!)
  13. Sprinkle with mint, if desired, and serve.

Classic Bread Pudding

My husband requested bread pudding for his celebratory Father’s Day dessert this year. This classic dessert is second only to cheesecake in his heart. ❤

This isn’t technically another strawberry dessert… but the fresh strawberry topping definitely brought this fabulously creamy bread pudding to the next level.

The recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart.com. I omitted the raisins, modified the presentation, and added the fresh strawberry garnish. Delicious.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10

  • 2 T unsalted butter, softened, for baking dish
  • 12 ounces brioche or challah, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 4 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 T pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup raisins, optional (I omitted them)
  • 1 cup boiling water, optional (if using raisins), plus more for pan
  • fresh strawberry slices, for garnish, optional

Smitten Kitchen’s Creamed Spinach

This was a belated side dish to add onto my husband’s celebratory birthday meal. We love drawn out celebrations. 😉 (We also wanted to spread out our indulgences!)

This classic recipe was adapted from Smitten Kitchen.com; I modified the proportions and method. I may add shallots instead of yellow onion next time. It was fabulously rich and delicious.

Yield: Serves 6

  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds fresh baby spinach or regular spinach, tough stems discarded (I used baby spinach)
  • 1 3/4 cups whole milk and/or heavy cream (I used 1 cup whole milk & 3/4 cup heavy cream)
  • 1/2 of a large onion or 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  1. Wash your spinach well but no need to spin or pat it dry.
  2. Place spinach in a large pot over high heat. (I used a pasta pot without the insert.) Cook, covered, with just the water clinging to leaves, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 2 to 4 minutes for baby spinach and 4 to 6 minutes for regular spinach.
  3. Press or squeeze out the excess liquid any number of ways, either by using a potato ricer (my favorite method), wringing it out in cheesecloth, putting it in a mesh strainer and pressing the moisture out with a spatula or large spoon or letting it cool long enough to grab small handfuls and squeezing them to remove as much water as possible.
  4. Coarsely chop the wrung-out spinach.
  5. Wipe out large pot so you can use it again. (I actually used a medium saucepan instead.)
  6. Heat milk or cream in a measuring cup in the microwave or in a small saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until warm. Keep warm. (If using the microwave, heat the mixture immediately before using.)
  7. Meanwhile, cook onion and garlic in butter in your wiped-out large pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about six minutes.
  8. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, about three minutes.
  9. Add warm milk or cream in a slow stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps, and simmer, whisking, until thickened, three to four minutes.
  10. Stir in nutmeg, chopped spinach, and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, until heated through.

Do ahead: Creamed spinach can be made one day ahead and chilled, covered then reheated over moderately low heat until hot. However, it really tastes best eaten immediately.

Fried Chicken with Biscuits & Tomato Gravy

Like my last post, this special and indulgent feast was also included in Food and Wine Magazine’s “40 Best-Ever Recipes” issue celebrating the 40th anniversary of their publication. I made it for the second year in a row to celebrate my husband’s birthday! 🙂

The recipes were adapted from The Gift of Southern Cooking by Scott Peacock, the then chef at Watershed in Decatur, Georgia, and co-author Edna Lewis, the legendary Southern cook, his mentor and close friend. I modified the cooking techniques and substituted sunflower oil for lard. Last year, I made Lewis’ wonderful biscuits from this full menu, but, this year I served the chicken and gravy with sourdough biscuits.

The chicken is double-brined, first in salt water and then in buttermilk, and then fried in a cast iron skillet filled with oil (or lard), butter, and bacon fat. It was very tender and juicy. The creamy and rich gravy is reminiscent of Italian vodka sauce. Pretty delicious. 😉

We ate the chicken, gravy, and biscuits with macaroni and cheese (my favorite version), and iceberg wedge salad on the side. My husband’s birthday meal is not complete without his favorite Vanilla Bean Birthday Cheesecake for dessert. ❤

For the Fried Chicken & Tomato Gravy:

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • One 3 1/2 to 5 pound chicken, cut into 8 to 10 pieces (I cut each chicken breast in half)
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 3/8 oz, 180.7g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons potato starch (optional) (I included it)
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound lard or solid vegetable shortening, for frying (I substituted 2 cups of sunflower oil)
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 pound sliced bacon (I used 4 thick slices)
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups drained canned diced tomatoes (from three 14-ounce cans)
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (I used whole milk)

To Make the Fried Chicken:

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the kosher salt in the cold water. Add the chicken pieces; cover and refrigerate for 4 hours. Drain.
  2. Put the chicken in a large bowl, add the buttermilk and turn the pieces to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours. (The chicken can be refrigerated overnight at this point, if desired.)
  3. In a gallon-size zip-lock bag, combine the flour, cornstarch, potato starch, 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and shake.
  4. Set aside 1/2 cup of the flour mixture for the gravy.
  5. Lift the chicken out of the buttermilk, wipe off any excess and set the pieces on a wire rack; let dry for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the chicken, a few pieces at a time, to the flour mixture in the bag; shake to coat.
  7. Dry the rack. Shake off any excess flour and return the chicken to the rack.
  8. Meanwhile, in a large cast-iron skillet, melt the lard (I used sunflower oil) and butter over medium heat. (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet.)
  9. Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat until crisp, about 5 minutes; reserve the bacon for another use. (I crumbled the bacon over our wedge salads.)
  10. Add the chicken, in batches, and cook over moderate heat, basting and turning, until golden, crisp and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Lower the heat if necessary. (I kept the cooking oil temperature between 300 and 340 degrees. I also completed cooking the larger pieces (especially the breast pieces) in the oven at 300 degrees, until they reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees.)
  11. Set the chicken on a clean wire rack to drain.

To Make the Gravy:

  1. Transfer 1/4 cup of the chicken cooking fat to a large saucepan.
  2. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes. (I chopped the onion and garlic in a food processor.)
  3. Add the reserved 1/2 cup of seasoned flour and cook, whisking, for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the drained tomatoes and thyme and stir constantly until blended.
  5. Whisk in the cream and milk until the sauce is smooth.
  6. Season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and no floury taste remains, about 10 minutes.
To Serve:
  1. Transfer the fried chicken to a platter.
  2. Pour the tomato gravy into a gravy boat and serve with the chicken.

For the Biscuits:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons single-acting baking powder or double-acting baking powder (see Note)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cold lard or vegetable shortening, cut into pieces (I used bacon fat)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

To Make the Biscuits:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°.
  2. In a bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, work in the lard just until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  4. Stir in the buttermilk just until moistened.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead 2 or 3 times.
  6. Roll out or pat the dough 1/2 inch thick.
  7. Using a 2-inch round cutter, stamp out biscuits as close together as possible. Transfer the biscuits to a baking sheet.
  8. Pat the dough scraps together, reroll and cut out the remaining biscuits; do not overwork the dough.
  9. Pierce the top of each biscuit 3 times with a fork and brush with the butter.
  10. Bake the biscuits for 12 to 14 minutes, or until risen and golden. Serve at once.

Note: The unbaked biscuits can be frozen in a single layer, then kept frozen in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Thaw before baking.

Chicken Tikka Masala

For years, this was the most popular recipe on Food and Wine.com. It was included in the 40th Anniversary edition of Food and Wine magazine titled “Our 40 Best-Ever Recipes.” I have tried several recipes from this wonderful collection.

This is an easy version of this classic and popular Indian dish. I especially loved it because the sauce was so amazing. The original recipe makes a note that the marinade and sauce are also delicious with shrimp, lamb, and vegetables.

The recipe was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Grace Parisi. I doubled the garlic and used slivered almonds. We ate it over brown Basmati rice with warm naan and sautéed spinach. Yum!

Yield: Serves 4

For the Marinade:

  1. In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cayenne and turmeric. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Using a sharp knife, make a few shallow slashes in each piece of chicken. Add the chicken to the marinade, turn to coat and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Preheat the broiler and position a rack about 8 inches from the heat.
  4. Remove the chicken from the marinade; scrape off as much of the marinade as possible.
  5. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and spread the pieces on a baking sheet. Broil the chicken, turning once or twice, until just cooked through and browned in spots, about 12 minutes.
  6. Transfer to a cutting board and cut it into 2-inch pieces.
  7. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil.
  8. Add the almonds and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a plate and let cool completely. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until finely ground.
  9. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil until shimmering.
  10. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 8 minutes.
  11. Add the garam masala, chile powder and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  12. Add the tomatoes with their juices and the sugar and season with salt and pepper.
  13. Cover partially and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
  14. Add the cream and ground almonds and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes longer.
  15. Stir in the chicken and pan drippings; simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, and serve.
Note: The Chicken Tikka Masala can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat gently before serving.

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