According to Saveur magazine, the origin of this popular Italian dish in still in question – “whether or not this dish of tube-shaped penne pasta lavished with a peppery, vodka-laced cream and tomato sauce was created in Italy is a matter of heated debate in some quarters; some say it was the result of aggressive marketing on the part of vodka importers. Whatever the case, it has become firmly entrenched as an Italian American classic.” This recipe, adapted with minor changes from Cook’s Illustrated, is quick to make and absolutely delicious. It all comes together rather quickly, so have everything prepped and ready to go before you begin the recipe.
1 (28 ounce) can best quality crushed tomatoes (see list here Best Canned Tomatoes)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ small onion, minced (about 1/3 cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press
½-1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
⅓ cup vodka
½ cup heavy cream
1 pound penne pasta
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
- Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. While the water heats up, add olive oil to a saucepan over medium heat and heat until shimmering. Add onion and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are light golden around edges, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Remove pan from heat and add vodka. Return pan to medium-high heat and simmer briskly until alcohol flavor is cooked off, 8 to 10 minutes; stir frequently and lower heat to medium if simmering becomes too vigorous. Stir in cream and cook until hot, about 1 minute.
- While the sauce is simmering, add 1 tablespoon salt to boiling water and add penne pasta. Cook until just shy of al dente (about 9-10 minutes), then drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water, and transfer pasta back to Dutch oven. Add sauce to pasta and toss over medium heat until pasta absorbs some of sauce, 1 to 2 minutes, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick. Stir in basil and adjust seasoning with salt. Divide among pasta bowls and serve immediately, passing Parmesan separately.