1 medium (or a few small) Spanish onion(s), chopped to yield 2 1/2 cups
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (If you are sensitive to heat, just use a pinch and adjust at the end. The 1/2 teaspoon makes for a seriously spicy sauce.)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (optional — I didn't use. I love dried oregano, but I don't always love it in tomato sauce.)
1 cup vodka
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled plum tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound penne pasta or whatever shape you like
4 tablespoons fresh oregano (I used basil)
1/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
grated Parmigiano or Pecorino
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Heat the olive oil in a large oven proof sauté pan over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano (if using) and cook for 1 minute more. Add the vodka and continue cooking until the mixture is reduced by half, about 5 to 7 minutes more.
Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes through a sieve. (Save the strained juice. I stuck mine in the freezer. It can be used for future sauce-making days as well as for homemade bloody Mary mix, etc. Maybe you have more thoughts for repurposing this strained juice? Would love to hear.) Put on an apron and crush the tomatoes into the pan with your hands — careful hear...you might make a mess all over your oven. Add 2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and place it in the oven for 1 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente. (Note: Ina adds 2 tablespoons of kosher salt to her pasta water. I did this, too, and found it really seasons the pasta nicely. There is no need to save pasta cooking liquid in this recipe, but if there were, I think the 2 tablespoons would be a little too much — the reserved liquid would be too salty. Just something to keep in mind.)Drain and set aside.
Place the tomato mixture in a blender or food processor and purée in batches until the sauce is a smooth consistency. Place potholders or dishtowels around the handles of your pot to prevent burning your hands in the next step.(Note: I puréed a handful of basil with the sauce at this step and didn't add anymore fresh herbs.) Return sauce to the pan.
Reheat the sauce, add 2 tablespoons fresh oregano (if using) and enough heavy cream to make the sauce a creamy consistency — start with a quarter cup; taste; add more as necessary. Add salt (if necessary) and pepper, to taste, and simmer for 10 minutes. Toss the pasta into the sauce and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in a generous handful of grated cheese. Serve with an additional sprinkle of cheese and a sprinkle of fresh oregano (if using) on each plate.