Penne with Vodka Sauce

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! We had a delicious turkey dinner, including roasted yams with brown sugar and marshmallows, green bean casserole, stuffing, gravy, and the Cranberry-Orange Relish I made last week.

One of the benefits of such a large meal is having leftovers: all of the food, in much less time. Friday night I popped most things in the oven to heat, put the turkey and gravy together in a pot to heat, and I relaxed while the oven and stove did their thing.

I knew I was making soup with leftover turkey for dinner Sunday, and thought Penne with Vodka Sauce would be a nice break from all of the turkey. Vodka sauce comes together quickly, in the time it takes to boil water and cook the penne.

This recipe comes from a friend from South Florida, Patti Tarquinio Gonzales. She is a terrific Italian cook and a gracious hostess. I think of her every time I make this sauce – recipes are often tied into memories, don’t you think?

Friday afternoon I put the crushed red pepper flakes in the vodka to steep, covered in plastic wrap. Saturday afternoon I strained the red pepper flakes out, and had lovely, spicy pepper vodka for the sauce. Garlic bread rounded out the meal, and we have leftovers for another two meals.

Penne with Vodka Sauce

1 C vodka

1/2 t crushed red pepper

1 28 oz can whole, peeled tomatoes, pureed in the blender (I prefer the texture when I puree the tomatoes myself, but you can buy pureed tomatoes in the can if you like)

2 thick slices prosciutto, cut into julienne strips

1 medium sweet onion, diced

2 T extra-virgin olive oil

2 T unsalted butter

1 box Penne Rigate, cooked according to package directions

2/3 C heavy cream

The day before you make the sauce: Put the crushed red pepper in the vodka, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit on the counter overnight; I usually do it for 24 hours. The vodka will turn red from the red pepper flakes. Strain the vodka into a glass container, and divide. I use 1/2 C of the flavored vodka in one recipe of Vodka Sauce; save the other 1/2 C in a lidded glass container and refrigerate for another use (Bloddy Mary, perhaps?).

Use a 4 quart pot to cook the penne according to package directions. While the water heats to boiling, begin preparing the sauce.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pot. Add the prosciutto and cook until it begins to brown. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the pureed tomatoes, salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Add the prepared vodka, and let the sauce come to a gentle bubble. Turn down the heat and add the cream.

Drain the penne after it’s al dente; add to the vodka sauce. Stir to combine.

I had some parsley on hand, and garnished the plated penne with the parsley. The green adds a nice pop of color to the pink sauce. Serve with garlic bread to round out a simple supper.

Let me know how you like it!

Cranberry-Orange Relish

My mother always made a raw Cranberry-Orange Relish for Thanksgiving. She cooked a whole-berry cranberry sauce, and we’d also have jellied cranberry sauce. Everyone had their favorite – I loved them all.

Husband and I are having a quiet Thanksgiving dinner, with all the traditional dishes. I made the Cranberry-Orange Relish Sunday, so the flavors would have a chance to meld by Thanksgiving.

I used my new zester, which makes long, thin strips or wider strips, and made the relish in my food processor. In previous years I’ve made it in the blender; this was much faster and easier!

Cranberry-Orange Relish

1 bag fresh cranberries, rinsed, dried, and picked through (I toss the mushy cranberries)

2 navel oranges, zested, rind removed, and cut into chunks

1/4 sugar, or more to taste if the oranges are not sweet and juicy

1 t salt

Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender. Pulse until everything is combined; you can make it as chunky or as finely chopped as you prefer.

Store in airtight container, stirring daily. The sugar and salt should draw out moisture from the orange and cranberries, making the relish a little saucy.

I’ve posted the raw ingredients before processing; I’ll post another photo next week of the finished product.

This is terrific on turkey, alongside turkey, or stirred into mayo for turkey sandwiches ๐Ÿ™‚

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Roasted Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Lasagna

A butternut squash has been sitting on my counter since I bought it a week ago. We had inventory at work last week (Monday-Saturday), and I didn’t cook at all.

I love roasted butternut squash and decided to try something new. Instead of using only lasagna noodles, I wondered how it would be if I used roasted butternut squash ribbons. Fast forward through not finding my mandoline, and using a knife; roasting chunks along with ribbons; and thinking caramelized onions would be tasty in this. I started at 4pm and finished at 7pm; cooking, mixing, washing dishes, cooking, cleaning…you know the drill.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Lasagna

1 butternut squash, peeled, sliced and chunked, roasted with olive oil, salt & pepper, rubbed sage & ground thyme

2 large sweet onions, caramelized with olive oil, unsalted butter or ghee, salt, minced fresh sage, and thyme leaves

Bechamel sauce – I used 4 cups skim milk and 8 oz heavy cream, seasoned with salt, pepper, rubbed sage, & ground thyme (I had about 1/3 of the mixture leftover, which could be used in something else)

1 package Barilla no-boil lasagna noodles

2 2 cup packages shredded mozzarella cheese

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 2 cup package shredded triple cheddar cheese

1 32 oz container part-skim ricotta

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs with salt, pepper, rubbed sage, and ground thyme. Add shredded cheddar cheeses, and mix to combine. Add ricotta cheese and mix well.

In a lasagna pan or large baking dish, ladle in enough bechamel sauce to cover bottom of pan. Create layers in this order: lasagna noodles, butternut squash, caramelized onion, ricotta mixture, shredded mozzarella cheese, bechamel sauce, lasagna noodles, butternut squash, ricotta mixture, shredded mozzarella cheese, caramelized onions, bechamel sauce, lasagna noodles, caramelized onions, shredded mozzarella. Cover with foil.

Bake at 380 degrees for 30 minutes, removing foil, and baking for another 10 minutes.

Serve with garlic bread.

Mini Victoria Sponge

Thank you to everyone who came out to our Facebook Takeover party for Happy Homicides 6: Cookin’ Up Crime! We had so much fun with it, and hope you did as well. Winners of the various author’s giveaways are posted on theย event page.

Fans of a traditional tea will already be familiar with Victoria Sponge. It’s buttercream and strawberry jam sandwiched between two delicious layers of sponge cake, dusted with confectioners sugar. I don’t see anything not to like about that!

I created an individual treat just for the Facebook Takeover party. Husband is always happy to be my taste tester for experiments ๐Ÿ™‚ I share it with you now, because it’s too tasty to keep to myself.

Mini Victoria Spongeย – For each one, you’ll need:

Dessert shells or small sponge cake (you can use a 2″ biscuit cutter to cut rounds from a sponge cake)

Buttercream (see recipe below)

Strawberry jam

Confectioners sugar

Place a dessert shell or sponge cake round on a plate. Put 2 T of buttercream in center and spread out to edges. Put 2 T of strawberry jam over buttercream and spread out to edges. Dust with confectioners sugar.


1 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1/4 t table salt, or 1/2 t Kosher salt

1/2 t vanilla (or to taste)

1 C confectioners sugar (or as needed to get consistency you want – buttercream should hold it’s shape when placed on the cake; runny icing is not what we’re going for here)

Cream butter and salt until butter is smooth; add vanilla and beat for 1 minute (start slowly so the vanilla doesn’t fly out of the bowl). Slowly add confectioners sugar to mixer at low speed; once all sugar is incorporated, beat at medium speed for 30 seconds until everything is incorporated. At this point, I took the bowl off the mixing stand and used a spatula to add more confectioners sugar until it was the consistency I wanted.