I have a serious weakness for Penne Alla Vodka. The cheesier, pink sibling to an Italian marinara, vodka sauce is sweet, slightly spicy and creamy without feeling heavy.
Homemade Penna Alla Vodka sauce is surprisingly easy to create, with just a few simple ingredients and a little bit of patience. This dish used to be a favorite for me to make in my college apartment and seemed like the ultimate, simple Monday Night Football dinner.
You need nine ingredients and two large pots, one for the sauce and the other for cooking the pasta later on. The recipe creates enough pasta and sauce for 4-5 people, which makes for incredible left overs.
To start the vodka sauce, add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, which should be on a medium-low heat. Next, chop one white onion and add to the sizzling oil. Don’t worry about the size of the onions since the entire mixture will be pureed later in the cooking process.
Cook the onion until they turn translucent, but not browned. We don’t want to caramelize the onions, which would make the sauce a little too sweet. Next add ten cloves of roughly chopped garlic. Allow for the garlic to cook until the pieces slightly brown, which should take 3-4 minutes. Be careful to avoid burning the garlic (no one likes the taste of burnt garlic).
Roughly chop thinly sliced pieces of prosciutto. If you plan to make a vegetarian version of the vodka sauce, you can remove the prosciutto all together and add a few extra pinches of salt to make up for the removal of the meat. Before adding the prosciutto, open the can of tomatoes. Add the prosciutto to the pot and stir for one minute, until the meat starts to turn a lighter pink color. Then quickly add the tomatoes to slow down the cooking process of the meat (you don’t want fully cooked slices).
Let the tomato, garlic, onion and prosciutto mixture simmer for about 20 minutes. At this point, if you like your dish a little bit spicy, add two teaspoons of crushed red pepper. Continuing stirring the mixture to avoid anything burning on the bottom of the pan. Most of the ingredients will begin to break down and cook together.
If you have an emulsion blender, gently mix the tomato sauce into a smooth puree. If you do not have an emulsion (or hand held) blender, carefully ladle the sauce into a blender and pulsing the mixture until smooth. The sauce will thicken and turn a light pink color. Add the sauce back to the pan and continue cooking on low heat.
At this point, it’s time for the alcohol! Add 1/4 cup of Vodka to the mixture in the pan. Allow for the sauce to simmer for at least 20 minutes, remove all of the alcohol content from the sauce.
While the sauce is simmering, in a separate pot bring generously salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the bag.
Back to the sauce. After allowing for the vodka to cook out of the sauce, it’s time to add the final ingredients. 1/3 cup of heavy cream and 3/4 cups of parmesan. Stir until the parmesan fully mixes into the sauce, which should now be a light, distinct pink color.
Finally, add the chopped fresh parsley to the sauce, giving a burst of fresh flavor.
This is the time when you can wow your friends by giving little tastes and dipping a fresh baguette into the sauce.
Drain the pasta, but do not rinse with cold water (keeping it steaming allows for the sauce to adhere to the starch in the pasta). Add the strained pasta into the originally pan with the vodka sauce. Mix the sauce and pasta together allowing for it to sit on a low heat for about 2 minutes until each piece is coated with the pink sauce.
In order to elevate the presentation, sprinkle a little parmesan and fresh parsley on top of the bowl of penne alla vodka. Serve along side a fresh French Baguette and Enjoy!
Penne Alla Vodka
Adapted from the Pioneer Woman
- 1 White Onion, Chopped
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 10 Cloves Garlic, Peeled
- 1/4 Lb Prosciutto (optional: if vegetarian)
- 1 35-ounce Can Italian Plum Tomatoes with Liquid
- 2 Teaspoons Crushed Red Pepper (Optional)
- 1/4 Cup Vodka
- 1/3 Cup Heavy Cream
- 3/4 Cup Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 2 to 3 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Italian Parsley
- 1 Lb Penne
- Salt & Pepper to Taste
- Sauté a little bit of olive oil with the white onion
- When the onion starts to wilt and turn translucent add the 10 cloves of garlic
- After 5 minutes add the prosciutto
- 1 minute later add the can of tomatoes
- Cook on low heat for 20 minutes
- Puree tomato, garlic, onion, prosciutto mixture (either in pan with emulsion blender or ladle into blender)
- Add vodka into the pureed tomato mixture, allow to simmer for 20 minutes
- Meanwhile, cook penne in separate pot until al dente
- Add heavy cream and parmesan to the sauce
- Turn off the heat and add parsley
- Strain pasta, add to the sauce pot and mix until all of the pieces are coated
- Serve and enjoy!