Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce

This year, my son qualified to compete in our County Championship swim meet for the first time! 🙂 The swim club hosts a HUGE pasta party the evening before the meet begins. Many many families bring pasta for all of the swimmers and their families to share. You have never seen so much pasta in your life!! Incredible.

I decided that in order to make it “fair,” I would bring my daughter’s absolute favorite pasta dish, so that the evening was special for her as well. The mistake was that – by appearance only (of course!)- it was indistinguishable from any jarred sauce… if the crowd only knew that it was made with the coveted recipe from Chicago John of one of my absolute favorite blogs From The Bartolini Kitchens… Well, it left more delicious penne a la vodka for us! Yay! 😉

I made this fabulous creamy red sauce including both pancetta and red pepper flakes- but it is just as delicious as a vegetarian and/or non-spicy version. It is particularly fabulous served with garlic bread and green salad. A crowd pleaser. Simple and perfect!

  • olive oil
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1/4 – 1/3 lb. chopped prosciutto or pancetta, optional
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup vodka
  • 1 28 oz. can tomatoes, diced or crushed (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 T fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 T fresh basil, chopped
  • coarse salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • reserved pasta water
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  1. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over med-low heat.
  2. Add pork product and slowly render the fat. Do not cook until crisp.
  3. Increase heat to med-high. Add butter, then onion, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. If needed, add some olive oil.
  4. Season with salt & pepper; add the red pepper flakes (if using) and the garlic, and continue sautéing for another minute.
  5. Remove pan from heat, add vodka, stir to combine, return to heat. Have a pan lid nearby to smother the flame should the vodka ignite. Allow to reduce for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add tomatoes, cream, parsley, season with salt and pepper, stir thoroughly, bring to a boil, and reduce to a low simmer.
  7. After sauce has simmered for 20 minutes, begin heating a large pot of salted water in which to cook the penne. Cook the pasta per package directions, cooking until about 2 minutes before al dente.
  8. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, strain the penne, and add the pasta to the tomato sauce.
  9. Continue cooking the combined pasta and sauce until the pasta is done to your liking. Add some of the reserved pasta water to the pan if the pasta becomes dry during this last step of the cooking process.
  10. Just before serving, add the basil, mix well, and garnish the serving platter with grated pecorino romano cheese. Serve immediately.

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About Josette@thebrookcook

I live in Stony Brook, New York on Long Island. I love garlic and baking. My hobby (and love) is to try new recipes. My favorite recipe resources include The New York Times, Food and Wine, Bon Appetit, and Martha Stewart Living. Enjoy!

21 responses to “Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce

  1. Hi Josette Congratulations to your son! Your pasta looks delicious with the vodka sauce! No wonder its your daughter’s favorite! I am sure that was a crowd pleaser! Incidentally my son’s high school soccer team also kick started the season with a pasta dinner for all the families! It was so much fun – I thought it would be boring but it was amazing to see how you could cook pasta in so many different ways 🙂

    • I was shocked by how many different dishes people brought to share…
      I have a MILLION pasta dishes on my blog- but am more apprehensive to make more adventurous combinations for a crowd-
      next time I won’t be worried! 🙂

  2. This is my kind of meal! This sauce looks so creamy and delicious! My kids also ran n school and we had pasta dinners the evening before meets. The kids loved it and it was a great way to get to know everyone.

    • It was hard for me not to bring a dessert- I felt like the kids should eat more dinner than dessert though 🙂 I’m not sure if it was actually more healthy! All of the fruit & salad was gone though 🙂

  3. I love that you made John’s recipe! And you are right…if only the crowd knew. 🙂 This looks incredible. You presented it beautifully.

  4. deliciouslynell

    Yum! That looks nice and filling. 🙂

  5. How I Love Vodka Sauce! Takes me back to this Italian eatery in Delhi, India … which I would visit only for Penne with Vodka! This looks amazing! 🙂

  6. I haven’t had Penne with Vodka Sauce since college. Mmmhmmm. I’m going to be craving it for the rest of the day. This version looks delicious!

  7. Hi Josette, I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award, because I love following your blog and want other bloggers and non-bloggers to know about your website! Thank you so much and please consider participating, if you haven’t done so in the past.😊

  8. Josette, I’ve run into that problem from time to time – my brownies come to mind. I know people just assumed they were from a box at a party. The hostess told me the next day they had a couple of late-comers, the brownies were still out, and they were devoured and they raved on and on about them and she had to have the recipe to give them. At least i was somewhat vindicated, but I didn’t have any as a consolation prize!

    Your pasta sounds amazing! I think I’m going to have to try it! I love vodka sauce and haven’t had it in ages and ages!

  9. Well, I’m smiling a bit because that is one gorgeous dish of pasta! Maybe you needed to make a big sign: Not Ragu! Not Prego! I think I’ll be making it this weekend, and maybe I’ll splurge on the Pancetta!

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