Penne alla Vodka is a rich, creamy pasta dish of al dente penne coated in a spicy tomato sauce infused with vodka then finished with grated Parmesan cheese. It takes less than 30 minutes to prepare and it’s absolutely delicious. You’re gonna love this dish.
Some people say this dish didn’t originate in Italy, while others say it was the vodka importers that pushed using the alcohol in cooking as an aggressive marketing scheme. In fact, I don’t ever remember my family making it, and they came straight from Italy. It’s more of an American-Italian dish, but I don’t care where it originated from and you won’t either once you try it.
If you’re intimidated using vodka and worried it will overpower the sauce, don’t be because the alcohol is cooked off and the vodka intensifies the flavor of the tomatoes. It’s the garlic and crushed red pepper that gives this dish its zing. I use a whole teaspoon of crushed red pepper with no apologies. You can start with ½ teaspoon if you’re skeptical and go up if you want to be adventurous. The heavy cream added in the end mellows everything out so you get the flavor and a hit of the spice but before it gets overpowering, the cream coats the palate and life is good.
This dish is usually made with whole San Marzano tomatoes which are crushed by hand or processed until they’re finely chopped. I use crushed peeled tomatoes because I always have it in my pantry and they're already crushed saving me a step. If you do use San Marzano tomatoes, simply blend or process them along with their liquid until they’re ground then continue with the recipe. You can also crush them in a bowl with your hand before adding to sauce.
Tools you’ll need to make this fabulous Penne alla Vodka dish:
A large skillet big enough to make the sauce and add the pasta to mix in the end.
A pot to cook the pasta.
This dish is pretty simple and I don’t have pictures of ingredients and steps because I don’t think it’s necessary here. I will post the steps in my stories on Facebook and Instagram so you can check there if you like. Let’s get to the recipe, shall we?
If you love pasta try:
- Angel hair with sautéed tomatoes
- Sausage pasta bake with mozzarella
- Simply delicious spinach and cheese pasta salad
- Spaghetti with garlic butter and cheese
- Baked rigatoni with three cheeses
- American chop suey
- Creamy fettuccine with peas and ham
Life is too short for mediocre food.
Penne alla VodkaPrint Recipe Pin Recipe
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large sweet onion finely diced - I use Vidalias
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- ½ - 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper I use the whole teaspoon
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed peeled tomatoes* See Note
- ½ cup vodka
- Kosher salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 pound penne pasta
- ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese plus more for topping*
- Basil leaves for garnish if you wish
- Cook penne to al dente according to package.
- Meanwhile, add oil to a large skillet over medium high heat and sauté the onions until soft and translucent - about 5 - 8 minutes.
- Add garlic and stir until fragrant - about 30 seconds.
- Sprinkle in the red pepper and give it a stir.
- Carefully add the tomatoes because they may splatter and give it a stir.
- Add the salt and pepper to taste. Taste and season and adjust for salt and pepper. If you find it too peppery don’t worry because the cream will mellow everything out later.
- Pour in the vodka. I add the vodka to the can from the tomatoes and give it a swirl to get every bit out. Give it a stir and bring it to a good simmer just enough so it’s bubbling but without it splattering all over the place. Adjust the heat.
- Let it cook for a few minutes to evaporate the booze, then pour in the cream and stir. Cook just until it’s heated through - about a minute.
- Drain the pasta and add the penne to the skillet. Stir it until the pasta is coated.
- Add the grated cheese off heat and stir. The sauce will thicken.
- Serve and garnish with some basil leaves if you want to get all fancy. Enjoy this delicious dish.
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