Posted by: lisetta | July 3, 2010

Pizzeria pasta

Hung out with friends this afternoon and was much surprised to stumble upon a tasty bowl of penne with vodka sauce at Savas, a new brick oven pizzeria right here in University City (Powelton Village, more precisely).

What survived our four forks, snapped from my Blackberry

Unlike the overcooked penne with vodka a friend ordered at Havana, a restaurant in New Hope, last week, this one was neither overcooked nor oversauced, and had flavors which moved beyond the bland. How could a cheap pizzeria edging a seedy part of town serve up a pasta that is actually worth eating? Yet another surprise to round out my week.

In general, I don’t really get how/why penne alla vodka is such a huge hit with Americans. Perhaps my palate is too unsophisticated to actually taste the vodka? To me, it’s just a basic tomato and cream sauce, sometimes dressed up with a bit of chopped onion and ham (as Savas was). Curious to learn about the history of the dish, Wikipedia offers up some interesting tidbits:

According to Pasquale Bruno, Jr., author of “The Ultimate Pasta Cookbook,” penne alla vodka was invented at Dante, a restaurant in Italy.

Other historians of the culinary arts recognize James Doty, a graduate of Columbia University, as the inventor of penne a la vodka.[1]

Paula Franzese, an American law professor famous for coining the mnemonic device “Frank Sinatra Didn’t Prefer Orville Redenbacher,” has asserted that her father Luigi Franzese, born in Naples, Italy in 1931, devised the first version of penne alla vodka, which he called penne alla Russia because of the addition of the vodka to his tomato and cream sauce base. He first prepared the dish table side for patrons at the New York City restaurant Orsini in the early 1970s. Orsini’s, owned by Armando and Elio Orsini, was one of the most acclaimed restaurants of its time, hosting scores of literary, entertainment and business icons. Word of penne alla Russia spread, and soon it began appearing on other menus throughout the New York region. Franzese was asked to appear on various talk shows to demonstrate his magic in the kitchen. The most memorable of these appearances is found on The Joe FranklinShow.[2][3][4]

The Williams Sonoma Essentials of Italian cookbook says that it was invented in the 1980s by a Roman chef for a vodka company that wanted to popularize its product in Italy.[5]

Lidia Bastianich, in her cookbook Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen, claims this dish is more of an American-Italian dish than an Italian one. This would certainly align with the wisdom of the crowd above, but what seals the deal for me is her recipe, which includes 10 cloves of garlic for one pound of pasta. Scandalous!

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