Penne Pasta Soup With Tomatoes, Peppered Vodka and Cream

(8 servings)

There's nothing more comforting than coming home to a bowl of steaming soup, chowder or stew for dinner. Except, perhaps, knowing that you can throw together such a dinner in less than 45 minutes and still enjoy that simmered-all-day-on-the-stove flavor.

We preferred this recipe without the salmon, but fish lovers might enjoy folding in some smoked salmon in the final stages. This recipe, and more than 80 others, are in Ray L. Overton's "Main-Course Soups" (Longstreet, $15.95).

1/4 cup olive oil

1 red onion, thinly sliced

2 red bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

28-ounce can chopped plum tomatoes, with their juice

1 teaspoon sugar

8 cups chicken stock or broth

12 ounces uncooked penne pasta

1/4 cup pepper-flavored vodka (may substitute regular vodka)

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream

8 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon (optional)

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus additional for garnish

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for garnish

In a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the red onion, bell peppers, garlic, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring often to prevent the garlic from burning, for 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and sugar and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 15 minutes.

Add the stock or broth and pasta, bring to a boil and cook until the pasta is tender but not mushy, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the vodka. Add the cream, salmon (if using), parsley and Parmesan and heat to a simmer.

Ladle into individual bowls and, if desired, sprinkle with additional Parmesan and parsley. Serve immediately.

Per serving (without smoked salmon): 476 calories, 17 gm protein, 43 gm carbohydrates, 24 gm fat, 56 mg cholesterol, 11 gm saturated fat, 469 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Headed over the river and through the woods to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains? A bottle of Smokehouse Winery mead (fermented honey wine, the toast of the Middle Ages) might be just the gift for the granny who takes a nip now and again. Last month meadmakers John Hallberg and Jen Cable produced their first two wines made with honey. Melomel, flavored with wine berries, blackberries and elderberries, is dry, reminiscent of sherry, with a complex, fruity taste. Metheglin, flavored with juniper berries, is smooth and sweet with notes of peach, apricot and malt. Either mead, which sells for $12 per bottle, would add a distinctive touch to roast pork or braised cabbage. The Smokehouse Winery tasting house, an old log cabin topped with a European-style thatched roof, is open on weekends from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., or call for an appointment. Smokehouse Winery, 10 Ashby Rd., Sperryville, Va.; call 540-987-3194. Also available at Brewtopia in the Centerville Square shopping center, Centerville; call 703-830-0300 and Murphy Beverage Company in the Old Town Mall, Winchester; call 540-723-9719.

To Do

THURSDAY: Tasting of more than 75 Champagnes and sparkling wines at Red Sage. Pricing per glass, ranging from $5.75 to $30. 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. 605 14th St. NW. Call 202-638-4444.

THURSDAY: Marvelous Holiday Celebration--food tastings with menu and party ideas at Marvelous Market Dupont Circle. Free; reservations required. 7 p.m. 1511 Connecticut Ave. NW. Call 301-656-2700 ext. 239.

SUNDAY: Candlelight tour and tasting at Elk Run Vineyards. $5. 6-9 p.m. 15113 Liberty Rd., Mount Airy, Md. Call 410-775-2513.

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Phone: 1-800-700-7336.