I was well into my 30's before I ever heard of "penne alla vodka". I didn't know what it was and I didn't care. I just knew that I had to find some immediately. So I did, and the world became a better place.
Recently I was saddened to learn that two acquaintances of mine have never heard of penne alla vodka either, which is a shame. Clearly those of us who know what it is need to do more to get the word out. So here is my effort to promote this simplest, cheapest, easiest, quickest, tastiest, and most elegant little gem.
(Recipe adapted from Jeanne Lemlin's Vegetarian Classics)
Yield: 8 servings
- 1 lb penne pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Red pepper flakes to taste
- 28oz can crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup vodka
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Parmesan cheese
- Fresh parsley and basil
Add pasta to boiling water and let steep for 10 minutes.
Rinse and dry the herbs.
The biggest change I made to the recipe was to dial the garlic way down. The original would have 8 cloves for the quantity that I'm making. But there's something about the chemistry of the vodka and cream that really, really, seriously enhances the garlic smell in the final dish. To the extent that your entire home will retain the smell for a week. And if you bring the leftovers in for lunch, the entire organization will comment on it.
Saute the garlic and the red pepper in the oil for just a minute on medium heat.
Add in the tomatoes, salt, and vodka. Let simmer for 10 minutes, which will thicken and heat the sauce, and yes, cook the alcohol out. But since no other big cooking tasks are required for the next 10 minutes, no one is saying that you can't sample the vodka while the bottle is out.
Once your drink is ready, check on the pasta.
Slice the herbs into a chiffonade.
After 10 minutes, the sauce looks a little angry.
Soothe it by turning off the heat and adding the cream.
Spoon the sauce over the pasta.
Garnish with cheese and herbs.