Penne alla Vodka

Sometimes K gets in an Asian mood, and sometimes I get in an Italian mood. It’s always good when our moods interact in a positive way (he will often request Italian dishes and I might ask for one of his Chinese dishes). I have only ever had this dish once before, and it was at a restaurant. As Lidia (the author of the recipe) says in her book, it is more of an American-Italian recipe than the other way around. After having it at a restaurant and having it again homemade, I definitely prefer the homemade. You can better control how bad it is for you (and it is a bit bad). Next time I would like to try using milk instead of cream to see how it will go. It will make for a looser sauce initially, but you could cook it down. Or, you could heat the milk initially before adding it. If you have tried it before, or try it now, let me know!

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Because I was partially making this dish to use up leftover pasta (we had a small amount of wheat penne left) and leftover tomato sauce from the previous week when I made pizza, this recipe is not going to be exactly like Lidia’s. Instead, I halved it (it still makes a good 4 servings as is), and I started with a slightly different tomato base. You can follow my directions below for the tomato sauce, or do your own variation.

You might want to have garlic bread and broccoli. But I'm leaving that up to you.

You might want to have garlic bread and broccoli, but I’m leaving that up to you.

One change I did not make was to use tomatoes other than San Marzano. I kept hearing about them and now enjoy buying them from Trader Joe’s (they’re so sweet and fresh tasting!). We only use them for times when we will really be able to taste them. In this sauce, you do not add many other ingredients with the tomatoes, so you want them to be tasty. Feel free to use other tomatoes, but you might need to add sugar if they are not as sweet. You should use whole tomatoes, but if you really had to, you could use crushed or even diced. The texture will be different, though.

Directions for Penne alla Vodka

Adapted from Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen

Tomato Sauce Base (this will make double what you need, so feel free to halve it, or save half for plain tomato sauce with a different dish; you can also freeze it)

  • 1 large can (28-35 ounces) tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Sugar (only if your sauce doesn’t taste sweet)

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In a food processor, combine all of the ingredients, pulsing to leave the sauce just a bit chunky.

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Pasta and Finishing the Dish

  • Half of the tomato base from above (about 2 cups of sauce)
  • 2-3 Tablespoons vodka
  • 3-4 Tablespoons cream (heavy or whipping; you could try milk)
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh basil
  • 1/3 cup grated or shredded Parmesan
  • 1/2 pound penne (feel free to substitute a different pasta)

Cook the pasta to just under al dente. Meanwhile, bring the tomato base to a simmer in a large pot. Once it reaches a simmer, lower the heat to medium low and add the vodka.

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When the pasta is ready and drained, add the cream to the tomato base.

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Stir in the pasta next. You can use some pasta water in the sauce if you need to loosen it up a bit. Add the parsley and basil, continuing to lightly simmer the sauce.

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When the pasta is cooked, stir in the Parmesan (it will help thicken the sauce more). Cover for a minute or two with the heat on low.

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You are ready when the sauce sticks to the pasta, but is not dried out.

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Directions for Penne alla Vodka (without pictures)

Adapted from Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen

Tomato Sauce Base (this will make double what you need, so feel free to halve it, or save half for plain tomato sauce with a different dish; you can also freeze it)

  • 1 large can (28-35 ounces) tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Sugar (only if your sauce doesn’t taste sweet)

In a food processor, combine all of the ingredients, pulsing to leave the sauce just a bit chunky.

Pasta and Finishing the Dish

  • Half of the tomato base from above (about 2 cups of sauce)
  • 2-3 Tablespoons vodka
  • 3-4 Tablespoons cream (heavy or whipping; you could try milk)
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh basil
  • 1/3 cup grated or shredded Parmesan
  • 1/2 pound penne (feel free to substitute a different pasta)

Cook the pasta to just under al dente. Meanwhile, bring the tomato base to a simmer in a large pot. Once it reaches a simmer, lower the heat to medium low and add the vodka. When the pasta is ready and drained, add the cream to the tomato base. Stir in the pasta next. You can use some pasta water in the sauce if you need to loosen it up a bit. Add the parsley and basil, continuing to lightly simmer the sauce. When the pasta is cooked, stir in the Parmesan (it will help thicken the sauce more). Cover for a minute or two with the heat on low. You are ready when the sauce sticks to the pasta, but is not dried out.

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12 thoughts on “Penne alla Vodka

  1. The marriage of Chinese and Italian is a beautiful thing in more ways than one! : )

    And I love Lidia – the queen of pasta as far as I’m concerned! Penne vodka is so good but I don’t eat it very often now that my metabolism has sloooowed down. Looking at your delicious pasta just has me craving it now. Thank goodness I just ate dinner!

    • Hehe–yes, it is a good match! Lidia was one of mine and my mom’s favorites on PBS. She keeps everything as simple as possible. By the way, is there a way of subscribing to replies on your blog? I end up missing your replies to me even though I subscribe to the blog itself.

      • After your question, I went over and re-configured my comment section. Hopefully, the subscribe to comments link works now! I had vaguely thought about fixing it recently but when I couldn’t figure it out in 5 seconds, I gave up. Thanks for motivating me to do it! : )

        I still love to watch Lidia on PBS. Her mom is great, isn’t she?! And she makes everything seem to easy and the food always looks so delicious and “alive”. We went to one of her restaurants in the city a long time ago (the more casual pasta place) and it was really good!

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