Penne alla Vodka


I don't post too many savory dishes on my blog and that was never my intention. Usually by the time I finish preparing dinner I'm too exhausted from the day to pull out my camera, and on the rare occasion that I do, my photos are less than stellar due to the lack of natural lighting (at least that's what I'd like to blame it on) and creative composition (I told you, I'm tiiiiiiiiiired).

So you can believe me when I say that this pasta was delicious, so much so that I got off my lazy butt and snapped a photo, artificial lighting be damned! I've seen this recipe posted on many-a-blog and always thought it looked amazing, but photos can be deceiving (as I've learned the hard way) so I kept putting it off. Finally I decided it was time to bite the bullet and busted out the almost-empty bottle of vodka that's been sitting in my apartment for way too long, taking up valuable cabinet space. And let me tell you, I'm so glad I did because this is a recipe that will be on regular rotation in our kitchen from now on. Photos can be deceiving and this one is no exception - the pasta is so much better than it looks.

Penne alla Vodka

1 (28-oz) can whole tomatoes, drained (liquid reserved)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 small onion, minced (about 1/4 cup)
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup vodka (use premium vodka for best results)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 lb penne (or other pasta shape)
1/4 cup reserved pasta cooking water
2 tbsp minced fresh basil leaves
Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, until just shy of al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Return pasta to the pot and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, add half of the tomatoes to a food processor and pulse until smooth. Dice the remaining tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces. Combine the diced and pureed tomatoes in a 2-cup measuring cup and, if necessary, add the reserved tomato liquid until the mixture measures 2 cups.
  3. Set a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and heat until simmering. Stir in the onion and tomato paste, then cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, or until the onions begin to soften. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Mix in the tomatoes and salt. Take the pan off of the heat and add the vodka. Return to burner, increasing the heat to medium-high, and simmer until the alcohol flavor is mostly cooked off, about 8-10 minutes. (Lower the heat to maintain a simmer if necessary.)
  4. Stir in the cream and cook just until hot, about 1 minute.
  5. Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss over medium heat until the pasta absorbs some of the sauce, about 1-2 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, you can add some (or all) of the reserved pasta cooking water to thin it. Stir in the basil and season to taste with additional salt, if necessary. Serve, garnished with freshly grated Parmesan, if desired.