Do you ever have those nights when things don’t go as planned? And, your intended dinner for the night falls by the way-side? It happens to me more often than I’d like to admit. While ordering a pizza is very tempting on nights like those, this pasta dish is almost as easy as picking up the phone and ordering. This was one of the first dishes I learned to make “by heart”, and I can always turn to it in a pinch.

You probably have everything you need in your pantry already. The sauce just takes a few minutes – saute the onion, add the tomatoes and vodka and allow to simmer, you add the cream and basil at the last minute. One note of caution, don’t use inexpensive vodka. I’m not saying to go out and spend $40 on Grey Goose just for this recipe, but lets not go for the $7.99 special either! The flavor of the vodka is concentrated in the sauce, so you really want to use the best possible. With a green salad, this is the perfect summer meal for those warm nights.

Who doesn’t love a big pile of spaghetti and meatballs? It’s always been a favorite in our home, and for good reason. It’s a comfort food meal that can be prepared in less than an hour, and there’s usually always leftovers which make for great submarine sandwiches later in the week. It’s pretty much your standard meatball recipe…well, except for the addition of powdered gelatin.

I know what you’re probably thinking – gelatin? In ground beef? No thanks! But, hear me out. I don’t like using ground pork or veal in my meatballs, and that’s where the gelatin comes in. It mimics the natural gelatinous goodness that is usually found in veal; giving it that smooth, velvety quality – without, you know, eating infant cows. I use it in my meatloaf too. A tip I picked up from Cook’s Illustrated years ago. Just love them!

This is one of my all time favorite “quick and easy” dinners. I usually have all the ingredients on hand, so I’ll turn to it on those nights when dinner doesn’t go as planned. Coincidentally, those are usually the same nights that a heaping helping of pasta in a luxurious cream sauce is just what the doctor ordered. It’s got a ton of flavor, and a good kick of heat. But, not too much – the boys are both able to enjoy it. Feel free to scale down or amp up on the seasoning per your liking.

I like the addition of chicken stock to the sauce. It’s a great way to inject flavor into a dish, that doesn’t involve a ton of fat or calories (which, would be the case if this weren’t a cream sauce). The wine is a great touch, but if you don’t have a bottle open, I’d just skip it. Then again, you could see it as an excuse to open a bottle. Whatever floats your boat! It’s also absolutely wonderful with shrimp swapped out for chicken.

I’ve been having a lot of fun making pasta at home these days. I’ve had a pasta machine for a few years now, the kind with the handle you crank. It was a great little machine, but I never found myself getting it out to use.  I’d wanted the attachment for my stand mixer for a while now, but it was pricey – and, not really something I’d buy for myself. Well, my mom and dad were really good to me this year and gave it to me for Christmas! Since then, I’ve been making pasta probably once a week. It’s been so wonderful. While dried boxed pasta is very affordable, and you can even get high-quality imported pasta at your regular grocery store now…there is just something to be said for fresh pasta.

Tender, yet firm. Finally, the term “al dente” makes sense! I’ll be honest with you guys, my first attempt was a bunk. I used the recipe that came with KitchenAid attachment instructions, and it was a complete wreck. It used 100% all-purpose flour. I had to add a considerable amount more water than the recipe called for, and it just kept tearing when I tried to roll it out. That batch ended up in the trash can. But, I didn’t give up. I turned to Annie, who can always be counted upon for a great recipe. This dough came together beautifully, rolled out beautifully, and cut beautifully. I happened to have semolina on hand from a previous trip to the “big city”, and used what I had in a couple weeks. I had to poke around a bit to find it close by, but I found it at a health food store. The 50/50 ratio of all-purpose flour to semolina is just perfect. I’m looking forward to trying some flavored pastas as well. I think I’ll mix some chopped fresh herbs into the pasta next time. With some sautéed garlic and olive oil. Perfect, simple dinner! Enjoy.