Ristorante Gambrinus. The name invokes memories of my early “tween” years when I first started TASIS, in Lugano, Switzerland. I went to school there from 1986-1992, and frequently we used to go to this restaurant in the main square. I remember when I first tried this dish. It was made table side, the server expertly flambeeing the vodka over the penne pasta, then adding the fresh cream and parsley. And then the first bite. Heaven. Nirvana. Valhalla. Whatever you want to call it, it was delicious. With a capital D. For many years I have recreated this dish, from the stained, crumpled hand-written recipe my mother wrote out as per the restaurant owner’s directions, or from sheer memory. And of course, it will never, in my mind, be as good as the original. There is always something about someone else making you food, that makes it taste better. Or maybe it’s a little eleven year old girls’ memory of that perfect moment, when things were a lot easier, when your parents paid the bill, and when all I had to do was dress up for dinner and then fall asleep in the car ride home, with my belly full of that scrumptuous pasta, knowing that the next morning the world would be all right.
Here, I give you my version of this dish, and I hope you will recreate it at home.
1 lb of penne pasta
2 tbsp of olive oil
4 strips of bacon or pancetta (pancetta is obviously the choice, but I only had bacon on hand), chopped
1 tsp of crushed red pepper
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely diced
1/8 tsp of dried oregano
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 small can of tomato puree
1/2 cup vodka
1/4 cup cream
Fresh parsley, chopped for garnish
Parmesan cheese, grated
Put 8 cups of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan over medium heat, add your bacon, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Saute until the bacon is not yet crispy, but starting to cook. About 5 minutes. Add your onion, and cook until soft and translucent, about another 7 minutes. Then add your garlic and let it cook another 2 minutes until fragrant.
Add the tomato paste, and mix well until combined. Then add your tomato puree, and fill the can/bottle with water and add to the sauce, and let it come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
Now here is the tricky part. Once you have let the sauce simmer so the water has evaporated and you get a wonderful smooth sauce, raise the heat to high, and let it come to a boil. Get your matches or lighter ready, close at hand, and add your vodka and flambee. It only takes a second for it to flambee, so there was no way I could get a picture of the flames. But trust me, it lit up!
Once the vodka has been evaporated, take it off the heat, and add your cream and parsley.
Boil the pasta according to package directions, and then toss with the warm sauce. Serve with a large mountain of freshly grated parmesan cheese….or a small one. But I love cheese.
Enjoy!!!! Have seconds. You only live once.
From my kitchen to yours,