Penne alla Vodka

Penne alla vodka, or penne with a bright tomato sauce enriched with heavy cream, makes a quick, family-friendly dinner.

Servings: 4 to 6
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes
Total Time: 45 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup finely chopped yellow onion (from 1 small yellow onion)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-ounce can whole peeled plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices (see Pro Tip below)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ⅓ cup vodka
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chopped basil, plus more for serving
  • Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. 
  2. Heat the butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds more. Do not brown. Add the tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, salt, sugar, and vodka; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook at a lively simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
  3. While the sauce simmers, boil the pasta according to the package instructions until just shy of al dente (it will cook for a few minutes more in the sauce). Before draining, ladle out about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and set it aside. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot.
  4. Stir the cream into the sauce and simmer, uncovered, about 3 minutes more. Using an immersion blender, purée the sauce until mostly smooth, leaving some small chunks. (Alternatively, ladle some of the sauce into a blender and purée until smooth. Be sure to remove the center knob on the blender and cover with a dish towel to avoid splatters, then add back to the pan.)
  5. Pour the sauce over the penne. It may seem a little soupy; that’s okay. Bring the sauce and pasta to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently; cook until the sauce is reduced and thickened enough to cling to the pasta, a few minutes. Add a little of the reserved pasta water if the pasta seems dry. Stir in the basil, then taste and adjust seasoning with if necessary. Spoon the pasta into serving bowls and pass the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table.
  6. Pro Tip: Diced canned tomatoes are treated with a chemical that prevents them from breaking down when cooking, so when I want a smooth tomato sauce, I prefer to use canned whole tomatoes and chop them myself. You can crush them by hand individually as you add them to the pan, but they splatter like crazy when squeezed, so it’s best to either use kitchen shears to cut them directly in the can or pour the entire contents of the can into a resealable freezer bag, press out any excess air, seal tightly, and then squish by hand.
  7. Note: The nutritional information doesn't include the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

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  • Per serving (6 servings)
  • Calories: 491
  • Fat: 17 g
  • Saturated fat: 10 g
  • Carbohydrates: 66 g
  • Sugar: 8 g
  • Fiber: 5 g
  • Protein: 12 g
  • Sodium: 453 mg
  • Cholesterol: 51 mg