My Zia (Aunt) Francesca adores Italy more than anyone I know.
No, really…I am being completely serious. She was born in Italy, but it’s more than a love for one’s country…her passion exceeds that x100. Heaven help you if you say anything slightly derogatory about anything or anyone even remotely Italian, as she will promptly ensure that you are enlightened as to why you are WRONG. An Alitalia flight attendent once gave her a bottle of champagne, mid-flight, just because she was so pro-Italy!
She lives in Toronto—the Italian part, of course—where they often speak “Italese”, which is Italiano and Inglese (English) mixed together. It is not uncommon to hear phrases like, “I’m going to pick up la cake,” or “mettele raynd gli garbeege” (pronounced “gahr-BEEGE”) which is dialect and translates to “put it in the garbage.”
Once, when I was visiting my aunt, she asked me if I wanted an espresso, as everyone was having coffee. I told her, “Zia, remember, I don’t like coffee.” Well, that was the wrong answer! She then exclaimed, “CREEES-teee-NAH! How can you be eetalian if you don’t dreenk coffee? Am gonna make one for you, and you’re gonna like it!” (Cue the aunt from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “What do you mean he don’t eat no meat? That’s okay, I make lamb.”) So Zia Franca made me an espresso, and I liked it. Truly, I did actually enjoy it because she put about 5 teaspoons of whipped sugar into it…it reminded me of coffee ice-cream, which I love because it’s so sweet!
|At my wedding, in a dress she probably made in 20 minutes!|
Besides going to bat for Italy and all things Italian, Zia Francesca is a seamstress who can whip out a set of fancy curtains or a gorgeous wedding dress from her sewing machine before you’ve even decided on the fabric. Her house is always perfectly clean (no maid, she does it all), and oh, did I mention she’s also does hair? So it probably won’t surprise you, when I tell you that she’s also a fricken’ sensational cook. Zia Francesca is the chef’s equivalent to a gardener with ten green thumbs…yes, she’s that good! Anything she makes is over-the-top delicious and it’s really, really difficult not to overeat at her house!
So years ago, when Zia Francesca told me to make Penne alla Vodka, I should have listened the very first time. She kept telling me how fabulous it was and how she made it, but I would always forget to try it! One evening, I finally made her recipe, but it was probably after the sixth time she had described it to me, and I’m telling you, I could have kicked myself! Not only was it “over-the-top delicious”, but the vodka sauce was ready before the pasta was even finished cooking! HELLO? What more could anyone ask for?
I now make Zia Francesca’s Penne alla Vodka for a quick and easy weeknight meal, or when I when I have guests for dinner and want rave reviews want to make something I know everyone will love. It’s also easy to turn this into a vegetarian meal by omitting the pancetta, or a celiac-friendly meal by using gluten-free pasta.
What I’m trying to tell you is that you need to make this pasta! Even if you’re not a multi-talented, super-seamstress, Top Chef, hairstyling Italian zealot, who has the cleanest house in the neighborhood, you can still make this delicious pasta and impress your family and friends. Hey, you never know, the other skills may follow! (Insert maniacal laughter here.)
|I just love my new mini OXO measuring cups!|