I'm pondering a lot of recipes lately. Mainly because I have family coming into town next week, so meals will be for a larger group. Let's just say an average of 17 - mix of adults and children. Since I'll have nine additional people actually staying at our house (still trying to figure out where to put them), and I don't want to be tied up in the kitchen (though I suspect we'll spend a lot of time hanging out in it anyway), we'll be doing the standard kid pleasing meals - tacos and hamburgers - but also trying for a bit more sophistication on occasion.

One of my go-to recipes for a group is Penne with Vodka Cream Sauce.

This has gained a lot of popularity in recent years and I know it can be bought in a jar, but I really can't bring myself to do that - mainly because it is so, so easy. My quest to make it started back in the early '90s in Pasadena when my friend Arryn and I would frequent a charming place for lunch that served it. It was a standard menu item, but we counted ourselves lucky on the days the special was the vodka sauce with chunks of smoked salmon added to it - not lox, but the drier chunkier type, which is probably why they cut it in chunks.

Anyway, you can put the sauce together in the time it takes to cook your pasta. Seriously. I don't really cook the tomatoes for the sauce, I just warm it up a bit. While it sets, you can round up everyone, as sometimes this is a challenge, especially with a group.

This recipe is easily doubled. Serve with a green salad and crusty bread. Don't forget the Chianti!

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Lori Rossi began collecting recipes at age 14, but her real love affair with cooking started after picking up a December 1989 Bon Appetit magazine. Today, she shares her love of the kitchen with her two kids, Nathan, 11, and Nicole, 8. Contact her with a question or idea at azlrossi@gmail.com.

Penne with Vodka Cream Sauce

1 pound penne or tube-shaped pasta

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, chopped (more if you would like)

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup vodka

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut in thin strips

Salt to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Optional: Diced smoked salmon

1. In a large pot, prepare pasta according to package directions.

2. While the pasta is cooking, blend the canned tomatoes until smooth in a blender. If you prefer a chunkier sauce, then don't blend it that much.

3. In a medium sauce pan, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, and warm the sauce on low heat.

4. When the pasta is done cooking, drain and return to the large pot over low heat. Pour the sauce over the pasta and mix in. Add the vodka, stir to combine.

5. Add the whipping cream. Again, stir until pasta is well coated. Remove from heat and let the pasta set, covered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt to taste. The pasta will absorb some of liquid from the sauce and thicken. If adding salmon, gently mix in. This can be served on the side as well to be mixed in if part of the group does not care for it.

6. Before serving, stir in basil, or serve basil sprinkled over the top of the pasta, along with the grated cheese.


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