If it’s summertime and the livin’ is easy, the cooking should be too. I love finding new ways to use up backyard bumper crops or farmers’ market finds, like the sweet yellow bell peppers that beckoned from a bucket of scarlet ones on a recent trip. Their cheery hue made me think of lemons. And since ingredients from the liquor cabinet are often my secret weapons for fresh inspiration in the kitchen, that got me wondering how these little bells and limoncello, the citrusy-sweet Italian digestif, might mingle in an easy summer pasta dish. After all, a neutral spirit like vodka is the base for limoncello. So, just like that, the idea for this fresh riff on classic penne alla vodka was born. Whether you use vodka, wine, fortified wine, or limoncello, reducing a small amount of alcohol in a sauce as it simmers causes aroma molecules to be released, which boosts flavor.
Traditional alla vodka recipes rely on tomatoes and cream, but this rendition mixes cream with a silky smooth yellow pepper coulis (a strained puree) instead. Limoncello amplifies the inherent sweetness in the peppers, while the cream rounds out any lingering pungency. The end result is a bright dish that tastes like summertime on a plate. Because the sauce is pureed, it’s main ingredient isn’t immediately obvious, and because it’s slightly sweet and yellow, serving it can be like a tasting game. Most guesses at my table were “sweet corn,” which I consider a compliment. This sauce does hint at the prized milk scraped from corn cobs. Serve this pasta as a side dish, or top it with grilled shrimp or chicken for a delicious supper.