Sometimes it's all about satisfying a craving. It could be a jones for a particular flavor: the deep spiciness of smoky chiles in a rojo sauce. Or the creamy, cheesy, oozy texture of mac and cheese or the aroma of a bolognese sauce simmering for hours on the stove. There are a few restaurant dishes that I get all dreamy about, too, like the beef tartare at Old Salt Marketplace, the Phnom Penh soup on Fridays at Ha & VL or Eric Joppie's pork chop with celeriac mash paired with whatever Randy has on cask at Bar Avignon.
Three Doors Down penne alla vodka.
One dish that knocked me off my feet the very first time I had it and still calls to me when I see it on their menu is the penne alla vodka at Hawthorne's Three Doors Down. Ignoring the fact that whenever I go there I also have to order their house Negroni, this pasta dish of penne smothered in a rich, creamy, tomatoey sauce with lovely, mild sausages that have simmered in that sauce for hours assuages a comfort craving like few others. The owners generously shared the recipe for that signature dish several years ago, and I've made it several times since.
Grass-fed beef short ribs from Old Salt.
Recently I had a couple of pounds of short ribs—my latest braised meat obsession—and wondered how they would work in place of the sausages.
In short? Like a dream. Simmering the meat in the sauce took a little longer, but once the ribs were fall-apart tender, all I had to do was remove the bones and chop the meat into bite-sized pieces before adding the cream to the sauce for the final simmer.
In this case, messing with a classic had a rewarding, and very duplicable, outcome.
Short Ribs alla Vodka
1 lb. penne
2-3 lbs. short ribs
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 med. onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
2 28-oz. cans Italian tomatoes
1 c. vodka
1 c. heavy cream or sour cream
1 1/2 c. Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
Salt and pepper the short ribs on all sides. In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or deep skillet, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the short ribs and sear. Remove the short ribs to a separate plate. Over medium-low heat, add the onion and red pepper flakes to the remaining oil in the pan, scraping up any browned bits from the meat. Sauté until onion is translucent. Return the short ribs to the pan and add the vodka and tomatoes with their liquid and bring to a simmer for two hours.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the short ribs from the sauce. Remove the bones and any big chunks of fat. Chop or shred the meat into bite-sized chunks. Add the meat back to the sauce. Stir in the cream and bring to a simmer, continuing to cook for another 30 minutes.
During this last stage of simmering the sauce, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain well and put the cooked pasta back into the pasta pot with the sauce and 2/3 cup of the parmesan. Combine, then put in serving bowl or serve in individual pasta bowls. Serve the remaining parmesan in a bowl at the table.