Black Friday Penne alla Vodka

We are spending Thanksgiving at home this year.  Like a lot of our friends, we are doing a lot of cooking and experimenting with new takes on old recipes.

Like most Catholic families, we grew up waiting to eat leftover turkey until the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Friday was fish day.  In a way, I like to continue that custom.  Not for traditional reasons, but because we like to have something light the day after.  Also, we crave tastes that depart from the traditional holiday fare.  So, I set out to make a dish for Black Friday – black pasta with squid.

Our friend Antonio made this for us in Naples.  He pointed out that there they don’t use pasta that has been tinted black.  For Neapolitans, it’s the sauce.  It’s a very spicy tomato sauce made with cuttlefish that has its ink sac intact. 

Since cuttlefish is hard to find here, I use fresh squid and add canned squid in its own ink.  This year, I could not find it where I usually shop.  Since this is not the time to be going from store to store, I decided to improvise. 

So here is my recipe for Black Friday Penne alla Vodka made with shrimp and black caviar. 

Like most of what we make, dinner starts in Jim’s herb garden.  This time of year it’s rather depleted, but I did procure some lovely savory and thyme.

For four servings:

1/2 pound of penne (I recommend green/spinach penne, if it’s available.)

24 shrimp

1/4 cup vodka

1 cup minced onion

2 cups chopped Campari tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Thyme and savory

4 tablespoons black caviar, divided

Sauté shrimp and set aside, keeping warm.

Set about 2 tablespoons of minced onion aside. 

Heat the olive oil.  Add the seasonings.  If you don’t have fresh herbs, use about ½ teaspoon of dried – or, of course, to taste.  Marjoram is a good substitute for savory.

Add the tomato and remaining onion in olive oil until the onion is translucent and the tomatoes are soft. 

Meanwhile, cook the penne according to package directions.

Add the vodka to the sauce and cook for a few minutes.  You may want to puree the sauce at this point. 

Add 2 tablespoons of caviar.  Just a note – the caviar will not turn the penne as black as does the squid ink.

Drain the penne and add it to the sauce in the pan.   

Divide the pasta among four plates, top each with six shrimp.  In the center of the shrimp, add a dollop of caviar and some minced onion.

Buon appetito

End of Summer Pesto

Summer is almost over and we are missing Italy and our friends there.  All we could do this year was watch videos of the empty Italian cities and people singing from their balconies.  A friend emailed pictures of the deserted streets of Naples, adding that, “A populace that doesn’t observe laws, now is observing the law.”

This is a street in Naples as we were accustomed to seeing it.

Another friend sent the link to a documentary about doctors and a hospital fighting Covid-19 in northern Italy.  All this has brought us to tears.  Yet, the Italian spirit endures.

It goes without stating that we couldn’t travel this year.  I know it is frivolous to lament a missed vacation.   Sometimes I feel that all that can be said about the direness of this epidemic has already been said.  I have nothing more add.  It is a sad and frightening time for everyone.  Isolated, we all yearn to see our families and friends. This plague touches us all, and we are doing what we can to brave it.

Yet here in Long Island life seems to go on.  Especially in Jim’s garden.  As if to assert, “See, I will continue to nourish you,” his herb patch is thriving.  The basil has never been so lush.  One of the ways I could use all this basil was to make pesto sauce.

I know well that there are many versions of pesto online and they result in a wide variety of sauces.  Some years ago when I bought some fresh basil at the local farmers’ market – more basil than I knew what to do with.  I muddled my way through making pesto and we loved it.  I wrote down what I did and have followed this recipe ever since.

It is simple, comprising only five ingredients – basil, pignoli nuts, olive oil, garlic and pecorino romano.  (I leave out salt, which everyone may add as they prefer.)

Thinking of how the Mediterranean diet is healthful and realizing these ingredients are all implicit to Italian cuisine, I did my best to discover the nutrition benefit for each one.


Basil:      An anti-inflammatory and an anti-bacterial.  It is rich in vitamin A and likewise contains vitamin K, potassium, manganese, copper, magnesium, and iron.


Pignoli Nuts:  Contain monounsaturated fatty acids and might help  reduce bad cholesterol, while increasing the good.   They are high in vitamins E and B complex and an excellent source of minerals as well.

  [Jim says these might break the budget.]


Olive Oil:        Also helps prevent inflammation and maintain cholesterol balance.  It too is high in vitamin E.

Garlic:             Also a source of minerals potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium and in vitamins B6 and C.  When cut, the bulbs generate allicin, which aids in reducing risk of heart disease and may be an anti-bacterial and anti-viral.

[Jim says that Italians have always known that garlic is good for everything.]

Pecorino romano:        I checked out for information on this sheep’s milk cheese.  They say it enhances the immune system and even those who are lactose intolerant can eat it.

[When I originally made pesto, I couldn’t have dairy products, so I served the pecorino on the side.   Everyone added as much as they wanted. ]

So it is with hopeful thoughts of delicious food and friendship that I offer my recipe for pesto.

First, if you are fortunate, you just go to your herb garden and pick basil.   Be sure not to take the whole plant. Cut it with clippers right above the small leaves at the bottom of the stalk.  That way, the plant keeps growing rather than going to seed.   If you don’t have room outdoors, buy a pot of basil and nurture it.  It will flourish in an apartment too.


Second, have your significant other grate the cheese.


Now, to create the sauce:

2 cups basil leaves                                                      1/2 cup pignoli nuts

1/4 cup olive oil                                                          3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup pecorino romano, grated                                Salt to taste

Place basil, pignoli nuts, garlic and salt (if you wish to use it) in a blender or food processor.  Slowly puree while adding olive oil in a steady stream.

Put pureed mixture into a bowl and add the grated cheese.

Yield:  1 cup.

Enjoy with pasta or on gnocchi.  Or with anything you like.




Buon appetito