A few weeks back I was pleasantly stunned to read that meat consumption is down 12% since 2007. No one’s sure if it’s just the economy or whether Meatless Mondays is starting to have an impact, but meat consumption is clearly down. I’d like to think it’s all the meatless delicious recipes we’re starting to see in restaurants, magazines, and blogs.

As Maggy and I continue to find ways take ways to take meat off the dinner plate and still eat sumptuously, we’ll share what we discover with you. Here’s our latest contribution to the cause—Penne and Spinach a la Vodka.

Evaporated milk makes a wonderful low-fat and calorie alternative to heavy cream in this sauce. Just makes sure to add that pinch of baking soda to neutralize some of the sauce’s acidity, which will prevent the milk from curdling.

Here’s to less meat, better meat!

Penne and Spinach a la Vodka

Serves 4 to 6

Don’t forget to add the baking soda which neutralizes some of the acid in the tomatoes and keeps the milk from curdling.

12 ounces penne (whole grain or white, your choice)
8 ounces (about 8 cups) baby (or coarsely chopped) fresh spinach
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium sweet onion, such as Vidalia
3 medium garlic cloves
1 cup each: vodka and chicken or vegetable broth
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping

Bring 2 quarts of salted water to boil in a large soup kettle. Using back-of-the-box times as a guide, add pasta and cook, partially covered and stirring frequently at first to prevent sticking, until just tender. Add spinach to the boiling pasta the last few minutes of cooking. Reserving 1 cup of pasta water, drain penne and return it to the pot.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until tender and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add vodka; bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half. Add broth and tomatoes; return to a simmer and stir in baking soda.  Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer to pasta sauce consistency, about 15 minutes. Stir in evaporated milk and simmer to blend flavors, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Add 2/3 of the sauce to drained pasta; toss to coat. Serve, topping each portion with additional sauce and a sprinkling of cheese.