06 December 2012

Veganomicon's Penne Vodka for my Minions

On Monday night, Shana and I hosted our semi-annual "Minion Dinner " (that's Shana's term for the students that help me out in various ways throughout the semester, not mine!). Minion Dinner is a night at the end of the semester when I cook for the students who have helped me out during the semester as either Research Assistants (RAs) or Teaching Assistants (TAs). This tradition is one I started just before I finished grad school. To thank them for all of their work (on my dissertation, no less!), I had the undergrad RAs and my lab-mates over to our house for a games/dessert party. That 2008 group was so much fun (see below)!

Since then, I've done something fun for my RAs, and also my TAs now,  every semester, and this one was no exception. This semester, I had 5 students over for Minion Dinner. They are such a great group of students; I'm lucky to have had them working with me. They certainly made my life significantly easier this semester than it would have been otherwise. We played games, laughed a lot, and they ate and enjoyed an entirely vegan dinner and a mostly vegan dessert! I think they were a bit hesitant, but they all left full and satisfied. 

Feeding a crowd (is 7 a crowd?) is always a challenge, but the added issue of feeding a crowd of non-veg*ns with vegan food they will like takes the challenge up a notch. Luckily, I have some go-to recipes for times just like this. One these go-to recipes comes from the cookbook Veganomicon, which is a bit like a vegan The Joy of Cooking. The recipe included for Penne Vodka is so good that one of my best friends calls it "Love Sauce." Judging from the speed with which this gets devoured every time we make it for anyone (omnivores and veg*ns alike), I think many people would agree with that assessment. Plus, it's a pretty quick dinner - under 30 minutes!



Penne Vodka from Veganomicon
Ingredients
2 tsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
1/4 c. vodka
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
black pepper, to taste
1/2 c. slivered almonds

1/2 lb. whole wheat penne

Directions
1. Saute garlic and red pepper in oil over medium heat until fragrant. Meanwhile, heat a pot of water for the pasta.
2. Add tomatoes, vodka, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
3. Cook the pasta as per package directions. 
4. Add almonds to tomato sauce. Use an immersion blender to blend the almonds until the sauce is smooth.

This is Amber Best dipping her gluten free pasta in the sauce.
She  calls this "love sauce"  because she loves it so much.
5. Drain the pasta then add the sauce (or not, it's up to you). 

Helpful Hints
  • Be really careful as you're sauteing the garlic, as it can go from delicious to disastrous in about 10 seconds flat. Burned garlic is not a friend to anyone's taste buds. 
  • You clearly don't have to use whole wheat pasta. The Barilla brand I linked above is some of our favorite. It's easily found in most grocery stores and it isn't incredibly heavy like some whole wheat pastas. Be careful though, as Barilla also makes a "Plus" variety of pasta, which is not vegan.  EDITED: Shana and I used to only buy Barilla's whole grain pasta. However, the chairman of the Barilla group expressed anti-gay sentiments in the latter part of 2013. Although we are not even close to perfect in the companies we support, we do make an effort to support companies with whom we agree or who do work on or financially support issues we care about. Thus, after hearing his comments and his lack of a true apology, we've stopped buying their pasta. 
  • Feel free to use cheaper vodka in this recipe, it won't matter. 
  • Slivered almonds can be found in the baking aisle. They are also delicious lightly toasted atop a salad. 
  • FYI, we served this with roasted broccoli, a crisp salad, and vegan apple crisp. We did get non-vegan ice-cream for the Minions, though some of them tried my vegan ice cream!

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