Penne alla Vodka

I don’t cook much with alcohol.

Vodka

Sure, there’s been the odd wine reduction sauce, a shot or two of brandy to a roasted tomato soup to round out the taste or a splash of sherry in my chicken tetrazzini. But the goal in these recipes is to add that hint of flavour, to enhance the other ingredients, not to dominate the dish.

So, I was a bit intrigued the first time I heard about Penne alla Vodka. There was no way the liquor was taking a back seat in this recipe; it’s in the name, after all. But how would the drink I associate with martinis and Caesars work over a plate of steaming pasta?

Vodka II

Let me be frank: it worked like a charm. So charming, in fact, I made it twice in one week–the sign of any good recipe, as far as I’m concerned.

I was a bit worried at first, because the instructions call for the vodka to be poured over the hot drained pasta instead of letting the alcohol cook out in the tomato part of the sauce. I feared it would be like eating a Bloody Mary for dinner with a scraping of Parmesan over it.

The tomato sauce

But a strange sort of alchemy happens once the butter starts to melt over the hot pasta and mingle with the boozy vodka.The flavours smooth together. (Because, yes, for experimentation purposes I did try a piece of penne with just the butter and vodka. You know, for scientific reasons and certainly not because I was getting hungry and curious.)

Adding the butter

Dumping in the tomato mixture, delicately perfumed with garlic and scattered with bits of soft, slightly caramelized onions, transformed some very basic pantry ingredients into a rich, guilty-pleasure type dish.

It should be said here that I like it saucy–as in, the pieces of penne should merely act as sauce conveyors. Spiked on the end of my fork, the pasta is swept around the bowl to pick up the last bits of onion and tomato, the last dribble of rich sauce.

And this sauce is dangerously good — enough to make you want to lick the bowl when no one else is looking. Ahem, not that I’m condoning that. So, I’ve adjusted the recipe slightly to al-low for my preference for more sauce. Feel free to add more pasta if desired.

Before the mixing

Unexpectedly, this is fantastic cold the next day. Perhaps it’s be-cause vodka is best when straight from the freezer? I ended up eating most of the leftovers straight from the fridge rather than waiting for the workplace microwave to be freed up. After all, with a dish like this, who would want to delay taking a bite?

Penne alla Vodka

The original Nigella Lawson recipe calls for garlic-flavoured olive oil. I don’t tend to keep that around, so I’ve adjusted accordingly. Of course, if you do have it, just go ahead and use it and skip the part about sauteing garlic in the first step.

Penne alla Vodka

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons (25 ml) olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons (25 ml) whipping cream
  • 1 28-oz (796-ml) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 lb (500 g) penne
  • ½ cup (125 ml) vodka
  • 4 tablespoons (60 ml) unsalted butter
  • Parmesan

Add olive oil to large frying pan and bring up to medium-low heat. add garlic and saute for one or two minutes to flavour the oil. don’t let the garlic burn.

Remove the garlic and add the onion, along with a pinch or two of salt. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally until soft and just starting to caramelize. add the can of tomatoes and let simmer so the liquid has reduced. (this took about 10 minutes when i made it, so i put the pasta on to boil as the sauce was cooking.) when the sauce has thickened, remove from heat and stir in whipping cream.

Add pasta to salted, boiling water and cook as instructed until the noodles are al dente. drain and return the pasta to the pot. pour vodka over pasta and add butter and another pinch or two of salt. stir until the butter has melted, then add the tomato mixture. toss all together until coated evenly, then check for seasonings. add more salt if necessary.

Serve with fresh parmesan serves 5.

This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.

  12 comments for “Penne alla Vodka

  1. watcat
    March 17, 2009 at 1:55 am

    Hi this blog is great I will be recommending it to friends.

  2. March 17, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Beautiful pics!

  3. March 17, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Looks good to me and easy…

    Fits in with my philosophy of good, fast and cheap….I like spicy Italian as well. Any variations to give it a kick?

  4. patentandthepantry
    March 17, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Bob, to kick up the heat in this, I would suggest adding some red pepper flakes to the olive oil in the last few minutes of cooking the onions. I leave it up to you how hot you want to make it though….
    : )

  5. kitchenscraps
    April 2, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Hey, I was going to make this recipe but I didn’t have any penne.. and I didn’t have any garlic, onions or canned tomatoes… and then I couldn’t find any cream or olive oil or butter… but I found the vodka. So I made vodka a la straightup…. it was great! i can only imagine how fantastic your gorgeous pasta would be.

  6. April 23, 2009 at 3:49 am

    I have just discovered your wonderful blog and recipes– can’t wait to try this one out, it really sounds so simple. Any idea on how to do a chilli or pepper flavoured olive oil. We don’t get it in India but I discovered it in Italy (see the post on my site).

  7. July 12, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Hi Gwendolyn, This post is featured on our Weekend Shout Out this week.

  8. katy
    December 31, 2009 at 4:08 am

    oh my goodness. found your blog about a week ago and knew i had to try this recipe asap. it was amazing and the family loved every bite. think i will add pepper flakes next time. the earl gray cupcakes are next. super excited about my leftovers and trying more of your great ideas.

  9. Alicia
    May 19, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    I plan on making this tonight, except I don’t have penne on hand, or cream.. I’m too lazy to go to the store at this particular moment so I’m going to use spaghetti noodles and just no cream (maybe a touch of milk, or chevre if I have any). Yay fooood! Yay vodka!!

  10. Alicia
    June 7, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    Well, I didn’t end up making this the night I said I did, but made it tonight instead, with the proper ingredients. Needless to say, that mysteriously wonderful alchemy you spoke of must not have happened in my dish, because it definitely tasted very vodka-ey in the end. In fact, my husband couldn’t even eat it, which is saying a lot because in the past two years he has only disliked ONE other recipe. I tried salvaging what was leftover in the pan by simmering it all mixed together to burn off some of the booziness, so I think it will be fine used as leftovers for lunch tomorrow :)
    Bummer though!!!

  11. Angie
    August 20, 2012 at 9:43 am

    the whole point of vodka sauce is to cook the tomatoes in the vodka because of the chemical reaction between alcohol and tomatoes, vodka is chosen for its neutral flavor.

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