Monday, November 8

Penne a la vodka

I know people like to knock Rachael Ray, but all of her recipes that I have made (and it's only been a few) were very approachable and relatively easy to make.  This recipe is no exception.  I mean, even Deb from Smitten Kitchen made it.

Rach's dish is somewhat annoyingly titled: You Won't Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta.  But, it is Tara's favorite meal that I make for her.  She requests it for her birthday every year plus she likes me to make it for special occasions. Other people buy their wives flowers; I make mine penne a la vodka!  So, even though I haven't been single for many years (almost 10, people!), it certainly keeps me from being single again!

(By the way, the Decadent Duo for Decadent Duos: Chocolate Cups with Whipped Cream from the same episode is pretty phenomenal.) 

I've tweaked this recipe so much over the years, per Tara's requests, that we've pretty much made it our own. Mainly, I added some heat with red pepper flakes and made it chunkier by increasing the amount of shallots, adding cut up stewed tomatoes, and eliminating the chicken stock.    

Incidentally, I rarely drink any form of alcohol - I can count how many drinks I imbibe in one year on one hand - and I certainly don't buy alcohol for drinking.  So, the first time I had to buy vodka for this recipe (normally I send Tara), there was a sale on the larger, 1.5 liter, bottles.  The irony of a non-drinker buying a rather large bottle of vodka was not lost on me.  Also ironical is how decently stocked our liquor cabinet (shelf, actually) is due to my willingness to use multiple varieties in my cooking and baking. 

Penne a la Vodka
Liberally adapted from Rachael Ray

Serves 4

If you want to make this alcohol free, swap the vodka for a half cup of chicken or vegetable broth (or water in a pinch); add it in with the tomatoes.

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4-5 shallots, chopped
  • 2 cloves (or 1-2 teaspoons from a jar) minced garlic
  • red pepper flakes to taste (~1/4 tsp)
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 1 large (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes*
  • Salt and pepper to flavor
  • 16 oz penne pasta
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 20 leaves basil, shredded/torn (optional)
  • grated parmesan cheese (optional)


Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil, butter, and shallots.  Gently saute shallots for 3-5 minutes to develop sweetness.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes to the pan and saute for a minute or so.  Add vodka to the pan and reduce by half (2-3 minutes).  Add tomatoes to pan.  Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer.  Season with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Dump in the pasta, boil for a minute or so and turn off the heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil, and cover.  Let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the pasta is cooked to your liking.  Once done, drain and return to the pot.

Stir cream into sauce.  When sauce returns to a bubble, remove from heat. Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

*Note: Regarding the tomatoes, for a thinner sauce, use the 28oz can of crushed tomatoes; for a super chunky sauce, use a 28oz can of stewed tomatoes, chopped; finally, if you need to compromise like I do, use one 14.5 oz can of stewed tomatoes, chopped, and one 14.5 oz can of crushed tomatoes.  The 14.5 oz can of crushed tomatoes can be a bit difficult to find (I know Muir Glen makes it), so you may need to double the recipe.  But don't worry, it freezes really well.

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