Penne alla vodka is a traditional Italian American recipe. The tomato sauce is slow-cooked in the oven for a couple of hours allowing the flavors of the herbs and tomatoes to fuse.
This recipe is elegant enough to serve at your next dinner party and simple enough to serve to the family for a weeknight meal. You can choose the longer, slow cooking method in the oven to intensify and deepen the flavors or you can cook the sauce quickly on the stovetop and serve it in a matter of minutes.
This version does not include any proteins. You can add cooked shrimp or chicken or prosciutto to the penne alla vodka to boost the flavors and the protein content.
To make the sauce, sauté onions in olive oil, along with garlic and red pepper flakes and oregano, until the onions are softened.
Next add the vodka (don’t worry about the alcohol, it will cook off) and let it simmer for about a minute, then stir in the tomatoes with salt and pepper. San Maranzo tomatoes, in a can, are best for this dish because they are less acidic. At this point, you can either choose to put the pot in the oven and slow cook for 1.5 hours. Or, you can cook on top of the stove for 20 minutes, mix with your choice of pasta and serve.
Ina Garten recommends the slow cook method. She also purees the sauce after cooking. I prefer to leave the sauce chunky so I do not put it into the blender.
After 20 minutes on the stovetop or after the sauce comes out of the oven, pour in the cream, add fresh herbs and remove the pan from heat until you are ready to add the pasta.
Boil the pasta in saltwater until just shy of al dente or a little chewy. Note that the penne will continue to cook through after it has been combined with the other ingredients in the vodka tomato sauce.
Finish the pasta with freshly grated Parmesan and a little more finely chopped basil and serve immediately.
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