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Penne alla Vodka

Mary Anne here. I realize that we’re only just recovering from Super Bowl splurges and now Cupid’s arrow is aimed squarely at our sweet tooth, so it only seems logical to eat light, lo-cal meals. But I’m sorry, the thermometer has been plummeting here on the East Coast and the wind chill is dancing with sub-zero. Another big fat brrr-cicle is dangling over us so I’m left craving creamy, carb-loaded dishes. I’m only human.

This dish was actually inspired by a leftover piece of brie, lingering in its lonely solitude in my cheese drawer. As I began fantasizing about a big bowl of Penne Vodka, I wondered what it would be like if I swapped out the traditional cup o ‘cream in favor of my last bit of brie. Heavenly is what it was! I’d like to think I cut a few calories by using 1% milk, but I swear you would never know the difference. This dish is the perfect mid-winter treat since it reheats beautifully, takes less than 30 minutes to prepare, and if you’re living with a virtuous dieter (like I am), you’ll have a few nights of delicious dining all to yourself. Mangia!

Penne alla Vodka
Serves 6

Ingredients:
1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes – $1.00
1 shallot, diced – $0.37
1 clove garlic, minced – stock
1 Tablespoon olive oil – stock
1/8 Teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste – stock
¼ lb. smoked ham, chopped fine – $2.25
½ cup milk (or cream) – I used 1% milk – stock
1/3 cup vodka – $8.99
4 oz. brie, rind removed and cheese chopped – $2.39
½ cup grated parmesan or romano cheese: – $1.99
1 Teaspoon dried basil
1 lb. whole wheat penne – $1.19
Grand Total Assuming Well-Stocked Pantry: $18.18
Total Per Serving
: $3.03

Directions:
1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté the shallots and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the vodka to the pan and simmer 2 minutes over med-low heat..

3. Add the canned tomatoes, juice and all, the milk and the parmesan and brie cheese. Season with red pepper flakes and basil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cheese has melted, about 5-8 minutes.

4. Transfer the vodka sauce to the bowl of a food processor armed with the metal blade. Puree until smooth, pulsing a few times if necessary. You may need to transfer in batches depending on the size of your appliance.

5. Return the sauce to the skillet, add the diced ham and heat over a med-low or low flame for about 10 minutes (simmer, don’t boil the sauce). The sauce will thicken up even more during this phase.

6. Meanwhile, cook the penne in a large pot of salted, boiling water.

7. Reserve about a ½ cup of the pasta water to moisten the cooked pasta, if desired.

8. Serve the warm sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with grated cheese, if desired.