The Literate Chef

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Uncle Bill’s Penne a la Vodka

In Guest Chefs, Pasta on April 30, 2012 at 2:07 PM

(Preparation time 15 minutes; serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a first course)


1 large onion, finely chopped
¼ lb. of butter
½ cup of Vodka
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 & ½ cups of grated Parmesan cheese
2 dashes of ground nutmeg
¼ cup plain tomato sauce (Del Monte, Hunts or Contadina) for color
Chopped parsley or basil depending on preference and availability
1lb. Penne


1.    Melt the butter in a large sauté pan and add the onion. Sauté on medium-high for about 8 minutes.
2.    Raise the heat to high, add the vodka and let sit 15 seconds. Shut the heat and ignite the vodka. CAUTION: Stand back from the stove, and if you have a vent fan directly over the stove be sure to shut it before igniting the vodka.
3.    When the flame subsides, return heat to medium high and whisk in the cream.
4.    With heat remaining on medium-high, slowly whisk in the cheese, ¼ cup at a time until fully blended.
5.    Stir in two dashes of nutmeg.
6.    Slowly add the tomato sauce until the color turns a desired shade of pink.
7.    When the Penne is cooked al dente (about 11 minutes), drain it and slowly mix in with the vodka sauce, then transfer to a serving dish.
8.    Sprinkle liberally with your choice of parsley or basil.

Serve with hot crusty Italian Bread and a fine Sangiovese such as a  Chianti Riserva.

Note: if making for a larger group,  merely double each of the ingredients.

Please refer to Tommy T and Me.

Tommy T and Me

In General Articles on April 30, 2012 at 2:06 PM

Me and Tommy T - June 2000

I met Tommy T on our first day of high school 56 years ago. We were assigned seats in alphabetical order, and as luck would have it, I sat next to him. We were from different neighborhoods, I from Inwood in Northern Manhattan and he from Highbridge in the Bronx.

Both neighborhoods, and in particular the parishes within them, Good Shepherd in my case and Sacred Heart in his, were populated predominantly by first and second generation Americans of Irish extraction. We were both second generation Americans of Italian extraction. Besides that commonality, we shared an interest in books and movies and appreciated a well-told story, particularly if it contained a humorous proclivity. One of the major pastimes in both of our neighborhoods was the imbibing of alcoholic beverages, another mutual interest of ours.

As we progressed through high school and college, Tom into an early marriage with Pat and the raising of three sons and I into military service to be followed a few years later with marriage to Betty and the raising of two daughters, our friendship grew and matured; expanding into good food, fine wine and the enjoyment of a Single Malt Scotch accompanied by a pleasant cigar.

We frequently got together for dinner, either alone, with our classmates, or with our wives and we attended our children’s weddings and welcomed his and Pat’s grandchildren into the world. This idyllic friendship lasted until Tom’s untimely death five years ago on May 10, 2007, so he never had the chance to meet our grandchildren.

In the intervening years, Betty and I became friends with Tom’s older brother Bill and his wife Kathy, who were frequent guests of Tom & Pat. This was a natural, as Bill, or Uncle Bill as he was often referred to, shared the same interest in books, movies, jokes, food, wine, single malts and cigars as did Tommy T and I, and the 3 wives all got along as well.

Recently Betty and I visited Bill and Kathy, and Bill prepared an excellent Penne a la Vodka as a first course for dinner. Having had this pasta dish on only one or two other occasions, I was curious to see how it was done, particularly the pink part. I watched Bill masterly prepare it and he was kind enough to write down his recipe.

This past weekend with our daughter and her family visiting, we invited my cousin Virginia and Peter to dinner to share in my adaptation of Uncle Bill’s Penne a la Vodka. Bill’s recipe calls for parsley, but having a beautiful bunch of basil on hand, I decided to substitute it for the parsley. Everyone raved about it and the next day, I asked my four–year old granddaughter if she would like to try some of Grandpa’s ‘Macaroni & Cheese’ for lunch. She did and devoured it saying ‘Grandpa, you are a good cook!’ It turns out that Uncle Bill’s Penne a la Vodka is also the perfect Mac & Cheese. Tommy T would have loved that!

Pork Medallions with Prunes and Calvados

In For Moms on the Go, Meat, Pork, Recipes on April 30, 2012 at 11:04 AM

(Preparation time 15 minutes; serves 4.)


2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Pork Tenderloin, (plain, i.e. unseasoned) about 2 lbs., sliced into 1 inch medallions – You should have about 16-18 pieces
24-30 Ready-to-Serve Prunes, drained and pitted (between 1 and 2 for each medallion). As an alternative, soak dried, pitted prunes in 1 quart of boiled water. In either case reserve about 1/4 cup of liquid to enhance the sauce. Or an even better suggestion soak them in Calvados as suggested by Jeannie.
1/2 cup Calvados
Salt and Freshly Ground pepper to taste


1.    In a 12 inch non-stick skillet, on high heat, melt the butter.
2.    Add the Pork Medallions, sprinkle with salt & pepper to taste and sauté for 10 minutes, turning several times to brown evenly.
3.    When browned, add the prunes and then the Calvados. Shut the heat and ignite the Calvados.

CAUTION: When igniting, stand back from the stove, and if you have a vent fan directly over the stove be sure to shut it before igniting the Calvados.

4.    Once ignited return heat to low, and with long tongs, carefully turn the medallions several times times to coat them well with the sauce, continuing cooking 2 to 3 minutes longer.
5.    Place 4 to 5 medallions on each plate, cover with an equivalent number of prunes and 2 or 3 extra, and pour the sauce over all. Serve immediately with vegetable of choice, or a small salad.

Please refer to Pork & Prunes – Yum or Yuck?

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