This is a lighter version of Nick and Toni’s Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola, the popular dish at Nick and Toni’s restaurant in East Hampton. Their dish is rich and ambrosial because of the secret kicker: a heaping cup of heavy cream. Chef Joseph Realmuto masterfully roasts the sauce in the oven for 1 1/2 hours after sauteeing the ingredients on the stove, giving the sauce a warmth and flavorsome that can only be achieved by roasting. My challenge was to make the sauce equally divine, minus the cream and yes, minus the vodka. Judging by the satisfied diners around the table who helped themselves to seconds and offered to take the rest for lunch the next day, I do believe my lighter version was un grande successo.Ingredients (for 4-5 servings):
1/4 cup excellent extra virgin olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 (28 oz.) cans peeled San Marzano plum tomatoes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3/4 pound whole wheat penne
Pinch more of dried oregano
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof saute pan over medium heat, then add the onions and garlic and saute for about 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook for another minute. Pour off just a little bit of the juice from the crushed tomatoes, and then add the crushed tomatoes to the pan. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Cover the pan and place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente.
Once cooled for 15 minutes, pour the tomato mixture into a blender and puree until smooth. You may have to do this in batches. Return the smooth sauce to the pan and reheat it over medium heat. Add a big pinch of oregano and a pinch more salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes to thicken the sauce a bit. Toss the al dente pasta into the sauce and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in about 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano. Serve immediately with another dusting or Parmigiano and torn basil leaves.
Recipe adjusted from Joseph Realmuto’s ‘Nick and Toni’s Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola