Spicy Penne alla Vodka
This classic pasta dish uses the simplest ingredients — it’s the perfect “Oh no, I forgot to make a dinner plan” dinner because you can make it right out of the pantry — but it’s super flavorful and comforting. The sauce is thick and creamy and clings to the noodles, and the vodka balances and sharpens the bright tomato flavor. The smooth texture of the pasta sauce lets the chewy al dente noodles really shine, and the spice is subtle. You’ll walk away from the dinner table with a smile on your face.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 35 to 40 minutes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt, to taste
4 ½ ounces double concentrated tomato paste
1 14.5-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound penne pasta
¼ cup vodka
2 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons freshly torn basil leaves
- In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and red pepper flakes, season lightly with salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are very soft but not browned, about 15 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant and thick, about 3 minutes. Stir in the canned tomatoes and their liquid. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often and roughly crushing the tomatoes with a spoon, until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the cream. Transfer the sauce to a blender and blend until very smooth. Rinse out the pot, then return the sauce to the pot. Season lightly with salt.
- Bring a medium pot filled ⅔ of the way with water to a boil over high heat and season generously with salt. Add the pasta and cook until just shy of al dente, about 3 minutes less than the package directs. In the last minute of the pasta cooking, add the vodka to the tomato sauce and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat.
- Reserve 2 cups of pasta water, then drain the pasta.
- Add the pasta and ½ cup of pasta water to the pot with the sauce. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring constantly, until pasta is well coated with sauce and reaches the al dente stage, about 3 minutes. If the sauce thickens too much before the pasta is ready, add more pasta water in ¼ -cup increments as needed.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cheese until thoroughly incorporated and smooth. Season with salt to taste. Note: If you can’t taste the vodka, you can stir in a few drops before serving, but be careful — a heavy hand will ruin the dish.
- Spoon the pasta and sauce onto warmed serving plates and top with more grated cheese, red pepper flakes and the basil. Serve immediately.
- Leftover pasta can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Recipe adapted from seriouseats