Thursday, May 26, 2011

Penne alla Vodka

Last night's dinner started a little rocky.  There I was, following instructions to a tee, and my out of whack burners once again got the best of me.  I've mentioned that they run hot right?  Well, that's something I just can't seem to learn from... maybe it's because I like to think that this time, maybe they'll behave themselves.  Bad burners!!!!  Anyway, I had only just gotten started with the meal- all I needed to do was heat up some oil, and start cooking some onions, along with some tomato paste.  I added the onions to the oil- I saw that maybe they were cooking a little fast, but thought, hey, no big deal, but then came the addition of the tomato paste, and this my burner did not like.  Immediately it started sputtering, tomato paste and hot oil flying everywhere.  I tried to get close to the pot to stir the blackening mixture, but it was angry, and I was soon coated in the burnt mess.

I took the pot off the stove, wept a little (inside), and then decided that it wasn't salvageable, and I needed to start over.  And start over I did.  This time I decided medium heat would be just high enough- I also used a different pan- my dutch oven (which probably wasn't the best to use for this dish anyway) was mad at me.  This time it was smooth sailing, and delicious eating.  This is the first time I've ever made my own Penne alla Vodka, and boy was it incredible.  The recipe that I used, from Annie's Eats, was just right.  Creamy and filling, but it didn't seem too heavy.  The amount of vodka was perfect, not too strong and not too weak.  Just amazing!

Penne Alla Vodka
Serves 4

16 oz. Dried Pasta
1 (28-oz.) can whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup onion, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 to 1/3 cup vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup reserved pasta water, if needed
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil leaves
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  When boiling, add the pasta, and cook until just shy of al dente per the package instructions.
2. While the water is coming to a boil.... If you'd like your sauce chunky, divide the tomatoes in half.  Add half to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth, and coarsely chop the other half. (Discard the seeds for the chopped tomatoes.)  Combine the pureed and chopped tomatoes in a measuring cup.  If less than two cups, add the reserved tomato liquid to reach 2 cups.  If you'd like your sauce smooth (like my boyfriend), puree all the tomatoes.  Then add enough reserved tomato liquid to make 2 cups.
3.  Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pot over medium heat (or medium high if you are brave, and your burners work properly), until shimmering.  Add onions and tomato paste and cook about 3 minutes, until the onions begin to soften.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook about 30 seconds, until fragrant.
4.  Add tomato mixture and salt.  Remove pan from heat and add vodka.  Return pan to heat, and simmer on medium about 8-10 minutes, until the alcohol flavor is cooked off.  Stir frequently, and if it is simmering too vigorously, lower heat.  If you are cooking it on medium (versus medium high), it probably won't need to be lowered.
5. Add the cream and cook about 1 minute, until heated through.  Be careful not to cook the cream too long, or the sauce will separate.
6. When the pasta is done, reserve a 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid before you drain it, and then drain the rest. Add the pasta to the sauce (in the sauce pan) and cook 1-2 minutes, until the pasta is done cooking and has absorbed some of the sauce.  If it gets too thick add some of the reserved pasta water, until it reached your desired consistency.
7. Add the basil.  Taste the pasta, and adjust seasoning as needed.
8. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Source: Annie's Eats, originally from Cook's Illustrated


  • I thought the pasta was great with the all the tomatoes being pureed, but I am a fan of tomatoes so I think I personally would have enjoyed it even more had there been tomato chunks.  My boyfriend however dislikes tomato chunks, so he thought it was just perfect the way it was.
  • Keep a close eye on the sauce especially in the beginning stages when you are cooking the onion, and then the garlic.  It may take less time than the instructions say depending of the heat of your stove, and it can burn quickly, as mine originally did.
  • I'm thinking that this would be an awesome dish to add shrimp, or crab, or lobster to... I'll have to try that sometime!


  1. I only pureed half the tomatoes as the recipe said and chopped the other half on the small side. I liked it but saw ron pick out some of the pieces so I will probably puree all of it next time. Shrimp crab or lobster sounds great. I was thinking mini meatballs.

  2. I guess it all depends on personal preference with the tomatoes :) Mini meatballs would be good too!

  3. I think that dish with shrimp would be awesome.

  4. I think that's what I'n going to do next time I make it. I think it would just kick it up a delicious extra notch.