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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