What’s more classic than penne alla vodka? I don’t think I’ve ever been to an Italian restaurant that doesn’t have this on their menu. It’s a simple sauce, but if executed correctly, it delivers so much flavor.
Every good sauce starts with a good base. This is not sponsored, but I have to take a second to acknowledge Kerrygold butter. Compared to American butter, European butter has a higher fat content which results in a more creamy and rich taste. To take it a step further, this Irish butter has even more flavor than most European butter’s. Not to sound dramatic, but this butter will change your cooking life.
I start the sauce with olive oil, butter, and roughly chopped onion. I allow the onion to cook until it’s translucent and add in: dried oregano, salt, fresh ground black pepper, and crushed red pepper because I always like a little kick to my sauce. Once the onion has cooked down, I add in minced garlic and cook for about a minute until fragrant.
Next comes the main ingredient, the tomatoes! I always use whole peeled tomatoes. They come in different styles with different ingredients, so be aware of what else it is mixed with because that can change the taste of the sauce. This one had basil and sea salt, so I was aware of the added salt when cooking the rest of the dish. San Marzano tomatoes have a better balance of acidity to sweetness, but real tomatoes grown in the San Marzano region of Italy and will have an official stamp stating so on the can (these did not, but still similar style/flavor).
I like to add a touch of tomato paste to my sauce to get more of an intense tomato flavor. It is concentrated, so a little goes a long way! It is great to use a little, taste the sauce, then add more later if you want to enhance the tomato flavor.
When I pour the whole peeled tomatoes into the pot, I gently break them up with my cooking spoon, cover them, and allow them to break down for thirty minutes. It’s important not to rush this step because you want to give the sauce time to reduce and fully absorb all of the flavors of the ingredients you have added.
Now comes the vodka! This ingredient is more controversial than you think. Many state that the alcohol just cooks off, so why even add it? I learned that at low concentrations, alcohol actually enhances the flavor and releases aromas from the ingredients within the dish. Too much and you’ll just smell the pungent alcohol, just enough and you’ll have delicious aromas. You do have to allow it to cook for about 7 minutes so the alcohol can cook and do its proper job in flavoring the sauce.
I added heavy cream after the vodka and then used an immersion blender to blend until the whole sauce was smooth. Don’t have an immersion blender? Carefully transfer to a heat safe blender and blend until smooth. After blending the sauce, I bring it to a boil and then I turn it to simmer for minimum 10 minutes. This is for the vodka as stated above and for the sauce as a whole to reduce together. While the sauce is simmering, you can cook the pasta!
I reserve some pasta water to add to the sauce to help create the perfect consistency. I add small amounts at a time, stirring, until the consistency I prefer is reached. Some like their sauce thicker, some more thin so this is a great way to control that. I taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if necessary, then add the pasta directly into the sauce to coat.
I serve the penne alla vodka with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, fresh basil, and toasted bread to scoop up all the delicious sauce left in the bowl!
Things you’ll need: Dutch oven or large pot, pasta pot, immersion blender or heat safe blender, cheese grater, can opener
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This homemade made from scratch penne alla vodka will be your new favorite pasta sauce.
- 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup yellow onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup vodka
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 pound penne, cooked to package instruction (reserve 1 cup pasta water)
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Fresh Basil
- Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
- Toasted baguette to scoop up sauce
- In your dutch oven or large sauce pot, over medium/high heat, add olive oil and butter. Once butter has melted add in the onion, dried oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper, and stir to combine. Allow the onion to cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add in the canned tomatoes and using your cooking spoon, carefully break up the tomatoes. Add in the tomato paste, stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes.
- After sauce has reduced for 30 minutes, add in the vodka, the cream, and using an immersion blender, blend until sauce is completely smooth (see note). Raise heat to high and bring the sauce to a boil, once the sauce is boiling reduce to a simmer and allow to reduce while pasta cooks.
- In a large pasta pot, bring water to a boil with 2 tsp of kosher salt. Cook the penne to al dente according to package instructions. Before draining, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta. Add the cooked pasta directly into the sauce and stir to combine. You can use the reserved pasta water to thin out the sauce if necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with fresh basil and grated cheese.
- If you do not have an immersion blender, you can carefully transfer to a heat safe blender to blend the sauce.
- Category: Pasta
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: pasta, penne alla vodka, pasta sauce