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Vodka Cream Sauce

December 27, 2016 Menu No Comments

Vodka cream sauce is my favorite alternative to a traditional red pasta sauce…aka gravy! While it may be tempting to simply grab one of the jarred varieties available in your grocery store, making a home made vodka cream sauce is not all that complicated. You do need to dedicate a little bit of time to allow the flavors to marry, and allow the sauce to thicken to the perfect creamy consistency. If you are a regular follower of my food blog, you probably know by now that I focus on low-fat alternatives to rich and creamy foods as often as I can. Unfortunately, this is not one of those recipes. Butter and cream substitutes aren’t going to give you a true, rich and tasty vodka cream sauce. But hey, you have to enjoy life to the fullest once in a while…why not enjoy it with a yummy pasta dish?

You may be curious as to why vodka is used in this classic recipe. From what I’ve learned, its purpose is to help release additional flavors from the tomatoes which are normally not released during a traditional cooking process. This is the same reason why certain recipes call for the addition of wine or other alcohols. The vodka also acts as an emulsifier. The oil from the cream would typically separate when it interacts with the acidic tomatoes. The addition of the vodka helps to prevent this from happening.

You can build on the ingredients and taste if you like. For additional spice, try adding a bit of crushed red pepper. If you are really in a creative mood, add a can of crab meat and some cooked chopped asparagus. Whatever way you choose to enjoy this recipe, I guarantee it will put a smile on your face.

 

Vodka Cream Sauce

Makes enough for 6-8 servings, with 1 lb of cooked pasta
Total cooking time: approximately 1 hour, 30 minutes

2 shallots, diced
1/2 cup butter
1 cup vodka
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
1 tbspn grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp fresh chopped basil
*optional – 1 tspn sugar

Melt butter in a large skillet or pan over medium heat. Add shallots, sauté until soft. Add vodka, let cook for 10 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and one tbspn of fresh chopped basil. Stir together. Lower heat to medium-low, let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the heavy whipping cream and parmesan cheese. Stir together. Lower heat to medium-low, let simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Give the sauce a taste. You can add a tspn of sugar to help sweeten it up a bit. Add the second tbsp of fresh chopped basil during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Serves well with penne, rigatoni or your choice of ravioli.

To make enough sauce for a half pound of pasta, simply cut the recipe in half. However, be sure to follow the same cooking time.

 

Stirring the sauce.

Plated and ready to serve!

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Cream Sauces Part 2: White Eggplant Cream Sauce

March 20, 2014 Entrees, Menu, Pasta No Comments

In my previous post, I introduced you to the basics of béchamel sauce, along with other sauces that use a béchamel as their starting point (mornay, soubise and velouté sauces, to be exact). I also shared with you the recipe for my red pepper béchamel cream sauce. In this post, I’ll be sharing with you the recipe for my white eggplant cream sauce, which also borrows steps and ingredients from all of the béchamel inspired sauces mentioned above. I’m using 1 cup of diced and floured eggplant, which will help give this sauce a nice, earthy taste and, depending on how long you let it simmer, either a chunky or creamy texture. As the sauce cooks, you’ll notice that the eggplant will start to break down, thus thickening the sauce as it dissolves into the liquid base. You can control how thick or chunky you make the sauce by how long you keep it simmering. The longer you simmer, the thicker and smoother the sauce. Because the sauce could potentially thicken quickly, you’ll want to keep additional broth on hand while cooking, to help thin out the sauce when needed. You can also add additional ingredients to the sauce for extra flavor and texture. I added some peas and cooked bacon to my sauce. Anything from asparagus and ham to mushrooms would work. It’s your sauce…have fun with it!

One additional benefit to this sauce is that you can make it low fat. Whole milk or heavy cream are not necessary, which is a big plus for a cream-based sauce. You can use 2% or 1% milk. Soy milk or almond milk also works well!

 

White Eggplant Cream Sauce 

2 tbspn unsalted butter
1 tbspn finely chopped shallot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup eggplant, finely diced and dredged in flour
1 cup milk (your preference of 2% or 1% milk, or even soy milk or almond milk will work)
1/2 cup broth (chicken or vegetable), plus additional if needed
1 tbspn grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
dash of nutmeg

Additional ingredients that I used in my version:
2 tbspn frozen peas
2 tbspn cooked bacon pieces

Heat a large, non-stick pan over medium heat. Add the butter. When melted, add the shallots, cook for 30 seconds. Add the garlic, stir together until fragrant (about another 20-30 seconds). Next, add the diced and floured eggplant, stir so that all of the pieces are coated with the butter, shallots and garlic (at this point, it will appear that the eggplant has soaked up all of the butter. When the liquid is added and the eggplant cooks, it will release all of the buttery flavor that it first absorbed).

Next, add the milk and the broth, stir together. Bring the heat down to low and stir occasionally. The eggplant will gradually dissolve into the liquid, creating a creamy sauce. Add the parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir together, then taste to see if additional seasonings are needed. You can also add additional cheese, but be aware that this will cause the sauce to thicken even more. Continue to check on the sauce and stir for about 5 minutes. At this point the sauce is heated enough to be served, and you have control of how thick you want to make the sauce. The longer you keep it on the heat, the thicker and creamier it will become. You can (and most likely will) add additional broth to the sauce as needed to thin it out a bit. Be sure to just add a little bit at a time so that the sauce does not become too thin and runny.

You can stir in additional cooked ingredients a few minutes before serving. I added two tablespoons of frozen peas and two tablespoons of cooked bacon bits, stirring them into the sauce a few minutes before serving.

Serve the sauce with penne.

eggplantsauce2

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Cream Sauces Part 1: Red Pepper Cream Sauce

March 4, 2014 Menu, Pasta No Comments

Without a doubt, one of the most popular cream-based sauces used in Italian-American cuisine is the classic alfredo sauce. Named after Roman restauranteur Alfredo DiLelio, this rich and creamy sauce is the perfect combination of butter, cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. For those who are more health-conscious these days, it is also a heavy and decadent meal that is often referred to as ‘a heart attack on a plate’ and should only be enjoyed every so often. But if you are a fan of cream sauces, there are less fattening options, and many of them start with the timeless French-inspired white béchamel sauce.

For this post, I’ll be sharing with you the basic steps for a classic béchamel sauce, along with other popular cream sauces that use a béchamel as its backbone, including my very own Red Pepper Cream Sauce. In my upcoming post, I’m going to take it even further with a hybrid combination of béchamel-based sauces mixed with sautéed eggplant. But first, let’s start off with the basics of béchamel.

According to thekitchn.com, béchamel is known as one of the classic French “mother sauces” that form the basis of much French cuisine. It is a simple, relatively low-fat  sauce that uses just a few basic ingredients (equal parts unsalted butter and flour, hot milk, salt and fresh ground pepper) which are cooked until smooth and creamy. The sauce can then be used in a variety of dishes, from soufflés and pastas to a creamy topping for vegetables. It is also a key ingredient in the popular Greek dish, Moussaka.

The first step to a classic béchamel is to make a roux, which is a combination of equal parts melted butter and flour combined in a sauce pan until it makes a light bubbling paste (making sure not to let it brown while cooking). Next, you stir in hot milk, bring to a boil and continue to stir until it thickens to your liking. Season with salt and pepper, and your béchamel is ready to go. You can control the consistency of your béchamel by adjusting your ingredients accordingly. A light roux (one tablespoon of flour and butter per serving of milk) would make for a thin sauce. Two tablespoons of each would make for a slightly thicker sauce, and three tablespoons of each would make for an extra thick sauce. You can also control the amount of milk in your béchamel.

From here, you can add additional ingredients to your béchamel to make more flavorful cream sauces:
• A mornay sauce has shredded or grated cheese added to it. Mornay is a nice alternative to an alfredo sauce. It has a similar cheesy taste and consistency, but is lighter because you are using milk instead of heavy cream.
• A soubise sauce is a béchamel with the addition of puréed onions and serves well with vegetables and meats, such as roasted pork and baked chicken.
• A velouté sauce replaces milk with a stock as its primary liquid (such as vegetable, chicken, beef or shellfish), and serves well with vegetables, chicken and seafood.

Now that we have the basic béchamel and some of it’s influenced sauces covered, let’s move on to my Red Pepper Cream Sauce.

Red Pepper Cream Sauce
Makes 2 cups

2 tbspn unsalted butter
2 tbspn flour
1-1/2 cups 2% milk*, heated (heating the milk in the microwave for one minute will work well)
6 oz roasted red peppers, puréed
salt and pepper to taste

*2% milk gives a nice consistency. You can also use whole or 1% milk if that is what you have on hand. The lighter the fat content, the thinner the sauce.

In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter until it starts to bubble, but does not brown. Add the flour to the melted butter, about 1/2 tbspn at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon as you add. Once you add all of the flour, stir until it forms a roux, or a golden, bubbly texture that looks like an egg batter. If your roux is too thin, you can add an extra pinch of flour. Again, be sure not to let it brown. If the roux does start to brown, remove the pan from the heat and continue to stir. Add the milk a little at a time, whisking thoroughly as you add. The first  bit of milk will turn the roux into a pasty consistency. As you add and whisk more milk the texture will become creamy. Continue a constant whisk until the mixture is creamy and all of the roux is incorporated into the milk. Next, you want to slowly add and mix in the puréed peppers. Taste as you add the peppers. You may find that an amount less than the 6 ounces is to your taste. Once you have the peppers whisked in, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve over ziti or penne and enjoy!

For step-by-step photos on how to prepare a béchamel sauce, including photos on how your roux should look, click here. The measurements on the link are a bit different than mine, but the photos are good references.

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Mini Inside-Out Pizza

January 26, 2014 Menu No Comments

Panzarotti…pizza turnovers…calzones. Whatever you may call them, they are all a type of an inside-out pizza, which is  pizza dough that is folded in half, sealed, and either baked (calzone/pizza turnover) or fried (panzarotti) to make half-moon shaped pockets packed with mozzarella cheese, sauce and other classic pizza toppings. These are not to be confused with stromboli, which is pizza dough topped with cheese and other pizza toppings, then rolled and baked like a stuffed bread.

I grew up knowing (and enjoying) the panzarotti version. On the corner of my Grandparent’s street there were not one, but TWO panzarotti shops. The original Mr. Panz, and directly across the street, Florida Style Pizza. Now, if you are at all familiar with the corner of Beechwood and Snyder in South Philly, you’ll know that there may be no more than 25 feet between the two corners, so competition between the two storefronts was fierce (our choice was always Florida Style). Mr. Panz is now long gone, but Florida Style is still around, and still frying up their classic inside-outs.

While the panzarotti is fried and usually filled with basic pizza toppings (cheese, sauce, pepperoni, mushrooms), the calzone is more of a classier dish. They are baked, and can be filled with more gourmet-style ingredients, such as spinach, broccoli, sautéed veggies, ham and other cheeses and meats.

Because my kids have yet to try either a calzone or a panzarotti , I thought it would be fun to make both, have a little taste test, and let my kids figure out the difference on their own. We rolled out some basic pizza dough and used a 4″ circular cookie cutter to make mini circles of dough. If you don’t have a cookie cutter, you can use a large glass or a small bowl to cut the dough. We then placed some shredded mozzarella cheese  and a tablespoon of pizza sauce in the middle of each circle, then folded and sealed them. Half were brushed with olive oil and went into the oven at 400˚ for 15 minutes, and the other half went into a deep frying pan, filled with 1″ of canola oil. The fried versions were flipped back and forth until brown and bubbly, while the baked ones were done when the dough was starting to brown.

After letting them all cool for a minute, we sliced them in half and served them to up to the kids. Surprisingly, they picked the baked version, because they said that the dough tasted more like traditional pizza dough. This, of course, didn’t stop them from devouring the fried version in minutes. “They taste like pizza donuts!” is what I kept hearing about the panzarotti style inside-outs.

I gotta admit, I was a bit disappointed that my kids didn’t quite appreciate the greasy, bubbly pockets of pizza heaven that I grew up with and enjoyed. But I am glad that they did enjoy trying them, and had fun judging the big taste-test. I’m sure we’ll be making these again some time, especially when the kids have friends over, or we have a family party. It’s a fun, tasty snack food to make and enjoy with a group!

Oh, before I finish, we did also make a gourmet version of the baked calzones. I went with the trendy prosciutto, goat cheese and arugula toppings (way to classy and delicate to be fried), and they were off the charts. I can see myself having a lot of inside-out fun in the kitchen.

Mini Inside-Out Pizza

Basic pizza dough, rolled thin (one rolled-out dough will make about 5 mini circles)
(you can use store bought or click here for a basic pizza dough recipe)
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Pizza Sauce

Plus…
Your choice of any other pizza toppings

Cut out 4″ to 6″ round pieces of dough using a round cookie cutter, large juice glass or small bowl. Place some shredded mozzarella cheese  and a tablespoon of pizza sauce (along with any additional toppings) in the middle of each circle, then fold and press the edges to seal them shut. If you are baking them, brush the tops with olive oil and place on a cookie sheet. Bake at 400˚ for 15 minutes, or until the tops start to brown. If deep-frying, fill a large frying pan  with 1″ of canola oil. Carefully place the folded pizzas into the hot oil, and use a slotted metal spoon to flip back and forth until golden and bubbly on each side. If you are planning to use gourmet-type ingredients, such as vegetables and multiple meats, I would recommend baking. The basic ingredients work best for frying.

The basic ingredients for inside-outs.

The basic ingredients for inside-outs.

Topped and ready to be folded.

Topped and ready to be folded.

Folded and ready for frying or baking.

Folded and ready for frying or baking.

Panzarotti in the pan.

Panzarotti in the pan.

Calzone in the oven.

Calzone in the oven.

Fried (left) and baked (right) inside-outs, ready to be enjoyed!

Fried (left) and baked (right) inside-outs, ready to be enjoyed!

Gourmet calzone stuffed with prosciutto, goat cheese and arugula.

Gourmet calzone stuffed with prosciutto, goat cheese and arugula.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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