Spaghetti a la Vodka. Adding alcohol to food? I’ve been doing it for years. Weirdly, I had never made this pasta sauce which is such a classic. Coming home from a long day at work, I admit, I wasn’t as thrilled to cook this sauce as I had started out being that morning. It was seven o’clock before I even got started and I was on my way to being very hungry.  Being prepared for a project such as this is absolutely key. I had already bought all the ingredients for the week so preparing my mise en place went quickly.

I laid out the tomatoes, set the pan on the stove with the olive oil and set to chopping the onion. Do you suffer from tears from chopping onions? I’ve tried the gum-chewing trick, putting the onion in the freezer beforehand-nothing works! My eyes got very blurry which doesn’t make for safe cutting. What does work, is complaining about it, running to the bathroom and putting a wet cloth on my eyes to stop the burn. How do chefs handle this? If someone knows, please fill me in!

This recipe comes from the great cookbook- America’s Test Kitchen. These chefs take simple, everyday recipes and test them and test them until they are utterly perfect. What’s also included is a “What might go wrong” page to help tackle issues that can arise during cooking. Fortunately, I didn’t have to consult it as this dish was easy peasy. I think I may have added too much vodka, but the trick is to let is burn out as the sauce simmers for ten minutes on the stove. The aroma of the chopped onions made all the tears worth it as they began to brown in the pan. My neighbor Marco came downstairs to get some leftovers from the previous recipe-Jacque Pepin’s Roast Chicken- and completed the aroma. “It’s like an Italian grandmother’s kitchen in here!” By this time my hunger pains were at an all-time high.

Stirring in the cream, I begin to boil the pasta. The recipe said that by delaying this process, the pasta and sauce would be ready at the exact same time and boy-it was. I didn’t have penne pasta so I used spaghetti which I prefer with this dish anyway. I added chopped fresh basil to the sauce and sprinkled the pasta with fresh-grated parmesan. My kitchen might have been a mess-sauce on the stove, tomatoes in the food processor, onion pieces scattered here and there but wow was this dish dynamite! As I sat on the sofa and took my first bite of this labor of love, I knew I was on the right track. I love cooking and creating something from a bunch of ingredients, letting them meet and mingle in the pan and create layers of depth and flavor that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. And the best part is? I had leftovers for the next day though I didn’t plan on sharing those with the neighbors!

All in and all done, this dish is an easy one to prepare on a week night. While the sauce simmers and the water boils there is some downtime and from stovetop to plate, it took thirty minutes. The sauce reached a balance of sweet, tangy, spicy and creamy-just as they predicted it could-you puree half the tomatoes and cut the rest into chunks. Simple, delicious and a recipe I’ll keep in my back-pocket for last-minute guests!