There are some items on a menu that I simply must have or I kick myself for days afterward for not ordering: Kevin Gibson's deviled eggs at Evoe; the cornmeal crusted oysters at Bread & Ink Café; the charred brussels sprouts at Ned Ludd.
Another item on that list is the to-die-for penne alla vodka at Three Doors Down which, depending on the time of year or the whim of the chef, can change to tortiglioni or some other pasta, but the rich, reduced tomato sauce and outstanding house-made Italian sausages remain reassuringly the same.
They also considerately deemed to put the recipe for this addictively luscious dish on their website so that we may have it any time we've a mind to and there are Italian sausages in the fridge. This fortunate confluence of events happened here just last night, and the resulting dish was a fit-for-company triumph.
If time is an issue, the sausages could be boiled ahead of time and kept in the fridge, and the spoon-lickingly delicious sauce could be assembled to the point of adding the cream and then held for the final simmering and baking. But I'm telling you, whether you make it at home or see it on the menu the next time you go to the café, you'll be putting it on your must-have list.
Three Doors Down Penne alla Vodka
1 lb. penne
6 mild Italian sausages
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 med. onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
2 28-oz. cans Italian tomatoes
1 c. vodka
1 c. whipping cream
1 1/2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 c. Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
Fresh oregano, finely chopped, for sprinkling (optional)
In a large pot, bring water to boil. Add the sausage links and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the links and set aside. In a heavy-bottomed saute pan or skillet, melt the butter and add onion and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat until onion is translucent. Stir in the whole tomatoes with liquid and simmer for one hour. Add the sausage links and vodka and continue to cook at a simmer for another hour. Turn the heat to high, add cream and tomato paste and stir constantly for 10 minutes. Reduce to simmer and continue to cook for another 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook, stirring frequently until molto al dente (about 1 minute from al dente-which is tender but firm to the bite). Drain well and toss pasta and sauce in casserole dish with 2/3 cup grated cheese. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup cheese on top. Sprinkle with oregano and serve.
Make sure to serve with a nice crusty italian como or ciabatta bread for dunking in the sauce. We like to drizzle a tiny bit of extra virgin Olive oil over the top right before serving. This is a great dish for company.