Add this easy, creamy penne alla vodka recipe to your pasta repertory. It’s a light and tangy version of the classic dish, made with vodka, tomatoes, penne pasta, and half & half.
- 1 28-ounce can (1 pound 12 ounces; 795 g) whole peeled tomatoes
- 1/3 cup (75 ml) good quality plain vodka
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
- 1/3 cup (45 g) peeled, finely chopped yellow onion
- 1 teaspoon minced, peeled garlic (about 2 small garlic cloves)
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (120 ml) half & half (half whole milk & half heavy cream)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar (optional)
- 1 pound (453 g) penne pasta
- Parmesan cheese, freshly and finely grated, to serve
- Open the tomato can and set a sieve over a medium bowl. Strain the tomatoes in the sieve. Save the tomato liquid and set it aside.
- Divide the tomatoes in half. (Typically, there are 8–10 whole tomatoes). Dice one half of the tomatoes into ½-inch (1.25 cm) pieces. Place the other half of tomatoes into a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth.
- Mix the diced tomato pieces with the blended ones, and measure how much you have. Add the saved tomato liquid from the can to measure exactly 2 cups. See photo in the post. Discard the rest of the tomato liquid from the can. (Or add to a vegetable soup).
- Add the vodka to the tomato mixture and stir to combine.
- In a large skillet or saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and tomato paste, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion and garlic are soft, about 3–4 minutes.
- Add the tomato mixture and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce cooks down and thickens, and the alcohol from the vodka evaporates, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the half & half, and cook for another 2 minutes. Taste and if the sauce is too tangy for you, stir in the brown sugar.
- At this point, you can let the sauce cool, and refrigerate for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month. (If you’re cooking for just 1 or 2 people, see notes below).
- While you cook the sauce, bring a large pot of water (about 4 quarts/3.78 liters) covered with a lid to a boil over high heat. Add about 1 tablespoon of salt when it’s boiling. Add the penne pasta and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente.
- Reserve ¾ cup of the pasta water and set it aside. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet or saucepan with the sauce. Stir to combine, add the reserved pasta water, and heat over medium heat, until the sauce coats the pasta, about 1 minute.
- Serve with the parmesan sprinkled on top.
- Vodka: Use the best quality of vodka you can find. Cheap vodka is only distilled once, whereas the more expensive usually three or more times. No need to spend $80, but if you wouldn’t drink it on its own, don’t cook with either.
- Tomato paste: See if you can find tomato paste in a tube. It’s more convenient than canned.
- Half & half: I find the mixture of half milk and half heavy cream is not as heavy and rich, as using just heavy whipping cream.
- To cook pasta for 1 person, I like to measure the quantity on my kitchen scale: 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of dried pasta is usually enough for one. Boil in plenty of water and don’t forget to reserve some of the pasta water, because it thickens the sauce. About ½ cup of sauce per person is plenty.
- Refrigerate: For up to 2 days.
- Freeze: For up to 1 month.