Sunday, October 31, 2010

Penne a la Vodka

Lately, I’ve been craving pasta, so I thought I’d try to make one of my husband's favorites that has now become one of my favorites – Penne a la Vodka.  He loved ordering this from Fresh Basil when he was working late nights at his old job.  I used Giada’s recipe, but added diced jalapenos for an extra kick.  I originally wanted to add spicy Italian sausage as well, but my local supermarket didn’t have any so I settled for turkey sausage to get some protein in the dish. 

This may sound dumb, and though I realize it’s called Penne a la Vodka…did anyone know the sauce really contains vodka???  I definitely did not.  I don’t have any vodka on hand, so I had to pick some up from the liquor store.  I bought one of those small 8oz. vodka bottles – made me feel like an alcoholic as I grabbed my brown paper bagged bottle of vodka and stuffed it into my purse.

Time to get cooking!  The base of the vodka sauce is a simple marinara sauce – Giada’s recipe mentions you can use store bought sauce which is what I would normally do; however this time, I figured if I’m going to try to make homemade vodka sauce, I might as well make it from start to finish.  Otherwise, I’m most definitely all about shortcuts that save me time.  Less time cooking equals more time eating! 

This dish is fairly easy to make and doesn’t take too long.  One thing that tripped me up was the simmering of the vodka in the tomato sauce – 20 minutes was not enough to reduce the sauce.  I sampled after 20 and 30 minutes, yet it still had a strong taste of vodka.  I ended up simmering for almost 40 minutes to burn off the excess vodka.  After that, the rest of the recipe was straightforward.  We ended up with delicious homemade Penne a la Vodka!

Sauteing the veggies for the sauce

Delicious tomato sauce

Penne a la Vodka!

Penne with Vodka Sauce
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis

Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 25 min
Serves: 6 servings


1 quart Simple Tomato Sauce, recipe follows, or store-bought marinara sauce, blended until smooth
1 cup vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 pound penne


1.  Simmer the tomato sauce and vodka in a heavy large skillet over low heat until the mixture reduces by 1/4, stirring often, about 20 minutes.

2.  Stir the cream into the tomato and vodka sauce. Simmer over low heat until the sauce is heated through. Stir in the Parmesan cheese until melted and well blended.

3.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and transfer it to the pan with the sauce, and toss to coat.

Simple Tomato Sauce

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Yield: 6 cups


1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
4 to 6 basil leaves
2 dried bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional


1.  In a large casserole pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add celery and carrot and season with salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, and bay leaves and reduce the heat to low.

2.  Cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour or until thick. Remove bay leaves and taste for seasoning. If sauce tastes too acidic, add unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, to round out the flavor.

3.  Pour half the tomato sauce into the bowl of a food processor.  Process until smooth. Continue with remaining tomato sauce.

4.  If not using all the sauce, allow it to cool completely and then pour 1 to 2 cup portions into plastic freezer bags. Freeze for up to 6 months.


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