The very good news is that we’ve officially moved into a place to call our own in LA (hurray!) and the accompanying not-bad news is that, because we got rid of all our furniture in our move last month, we’re very slowly figuring out how to furnish it (adjusting to new and foreign concepts like What Makes Sense or What Looks Nice and not Where Can It Possibly Fit in Our Tiny New York Space) and in the meantime, still eating standing up at the kitchen counter or on our laps. Personally, I’m tempted by an all-abiding impatience to go ahead and just stuff our home with furniture already, but luckily the perpetually calmer B2 is here to keep me in check, and from ending up with a home that manages to be nonfunctional, haphazard, and overpriced all at once. Still, word on the UPS street is that our kitchen table is on the way! So hopefully I’ll be able to start sharing some new eats and snaps from this sunny West Coast home of ours sometime soon.
Until then, there are just a few more dishes from our Brooklyn kitchen that have been waiting to make an appearance. Right now, I’m in that fabled second trimester dream space that I’ve heard so much about, where I feel so perfectly normal, and sometimes even better than normal, that I can barely believe I have a wee one in me, except for my utter lack of waist and his little popcorn-like kicks and occasional barrel rolls that I’ve just started feeling. I’m in the mood for most foods, with (thankfully) a penchant for fruit and fresh, crunchy things. But earlier on I went through a phase where I didn’t feel like eating anything except for the one thing I really, really wanted to eat (and then never wanted again about a day or two later).
One of those things was, a little maddeningly, pasta alla vodka. Everyone I’ve told about this has chimed in immediately, “But all the alcohol cooks off!” and “It’s such a tiny amount anyway,” so I’m guessing I could have had all that I wanted, guilt-free. I was still delighted, though, to find a teetotaling version of it in Cheryl Sternman Rule’s gorgeous book, Yogurt Culture, and it was the perfect excuse to break open a cookbook I’ve been meaning to cook from for so long now. We loved it. It’s a genius idea to add Greek yogurt to a “vodka” sauce because the yogurt adds a similar bite to what you would have gotten with the vodka, but does double duty in replacing heavy cream for a pasta that’s far lighter but nearly as creamy, smooth, and satisfying. If you like, you can add in a bit of heavy cream or a pat of butter to bring it even closer to the original, but I didn’t think it was particularly necessary. With a handful of basil and some chicken breast for protein, it’s a fresh, summery take on a decadent pasta that still tastes just as indulgent.
Barely adapted from Cheryl Sternman Rule's Yogurt Culture.
- 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, grated or finely chopped
- 2-3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
- 28 oz can tomato puree (we used San Marzano variety)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup plain full fat Greek yogurt, at room temperature (the creamier, the better -- I like Fage for this)
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or more or less, to taste; optional)
- 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 12 oz), cooked to your liking (optional; this recipe is my favorite)
- 1 pound pasta of your choice (I used rigatoni, but any will work)
- Torn fresh basil leaves, for garnish
- Make the sauce: In a large saucepan, warm 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Toss in the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the tomato puree and season generously with salt and pepper. Bring to a bubble, then reduce the heat and maintain a low summer so that the flavors can fully develop, 30 to 40 minutes, giving a stir when you think of it. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 10 minutes.
- Temper the yogurt: In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 1 tablespoon oil into the yogurt. Whisk in 1/2 cup of the warm sauce to temper the yogurt. Scrape the yogurt mixture back into the saucepan, whisking to incorporate fully. Taste, adding more salt and pepper, the crushed red pepper, and the Parmesan (if desired).
- Serve: Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water according to the package instructions. While it's cooking, prepare your chicken breast, if you haven't already. (I always use this recipe, with plenty of salt and pepper.) Set aside and let cool, then slice into bite-sized pieces.
- When the pasta is done, set aside 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, slowly transfer the hot pasta to the tomato sauce, tossing to coat. Add the chicken and toss again. Drizzle in a tablespoon or two of the reserved pasta water (or heavy cream, if you like) to loosen, or as much as needed. Serve hot, garnished with the basil.
You can also add 1/4 cup heavy cream or a few pats of butter, if you like. If you find the sauce is too tart, add a tablespoon or two of brown sugar.