Thursday, May 30, 2013

Penne Alla Vodka

Penne Alla Vodka:

You Won't Get Drunk, Don't Worry

Honestly, the thought of pouring vodka over noodles has always sounded kinda gross. Okay, okay, I know you don't actually pour it over the noodles. And I know you're supposed to cook the sauce first. I also know the alcohol "cooks off" but I still always thought there would be a freaky vodka-like grossness to the remaining dish. As much as I know inside that I "know" about cooking, I also realize I don't know the first thing about cooking. That's what is so cool about it: There is ALWAYS something new to learn. Always.

It reminds me of the old critically acclaimed film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (circa 1989) where they quoted Socrates. Funny how you learn cool stuff through stupid stuff. Or am I just stupid? Jury's out on that one. Anywho, the quote is as follows: "The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing". And if you KNOW that, you will learn everything you possibly can.

So a few years back, we were in an a local Italian restaurant for dinner before heading out to a blues show we had tickets for. My wife ordered the pasta with vodka sauce. I figured I could order my choice off the menu and then try her dish to see if I liked it. If I did great but if I didn't, I could say "Haha, mines is good, yours is gross". Then I could eat mine slowly with my eyes shut, all the while going "Mmmm, this is so tasty. Bet you wish you ordered this. What did you get again? Oh yeah vodka sauce. Ewww. Bet it's gross." 

I wouldn't have really done that. 

But as it turns out, the dish was actually very good. In fact, I kinda loved it. And bless her heart because she didn't close her eyes and tell me how much better hers was than mine. Note to self: Grow up Justin.

Since then, I've grown to love the dish. I've had it on several occasions since and thought it was about time I figured this thing out. My findings were rather cool. This dish is actually super easy to make and the results are equally as good. 

My wife (for the purposes of this blog, let's just call her Kris, mostly because at birth, her parents named her Kris) has a huge problem with me when we entertain. I have this uncontrollable urge to make the best food ever for my guests. Unreasonable?  No. However, the downfall to it is that I tend to spend too much time in the kitchen cooking for my guests instead of hanging out with them on the patio or in the pool like a good host should. Amateur? Probably. But I'm a perfectionist and would rather have them enjoy my "artistic capabilities" rather than my mediocre company. The fact is, I run my dinner parties like a restaurant. She's front of the house, I'm back of the house. She the hostess, I'm the chef.  But as usual, she's right. I should make stuff like Penne Alla Vodka that's quick and delicious and call it good.

That being said, this is perfect for guests because it doesn't require much cook time or prep. A small amount of mise en place is usually in order but, again, this one doesn't require much.

This recipe was inspired by The Pioneer Woman's version of this dish. 

Penne Alla Vodka


  • 1 pound box of penne pasta
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup vodka
  • One 14 oz can of tomato puree (see hint below)
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 2-3 Tbsp basil, cut chiffonade
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 


1. Cook pasta per box directions. Do not overcook making sure to leave pasta al dente. Once done, reserve one cup of the cooking water then drain the noodles. 

2. Heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and shallots and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. 

3. Add vodka to skillet and cook to reduce for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Add tomato puree and mix until completely combined. Then reduce heat to low.

5. Add the cream and stir to combine.

6. Then stir in the red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, and basil.

7. Finally, add the noodles and Parmesan and toss to combine all. 

Serves 4

Hint: The first two ingredients listed on most tomato puree cans are: Tomato paste, water.
If you can't find the tomato puree, buy a 14 oz can of tomato paste and add water to it until you reach a consistency somewhere between tomato paste and tomato sauce. The plus side to this? Tomato paste is half the cost of puree. Why would a product that's twice as concentrated cost half the price of the diluted version? Somebody is seeing someone coming from a mile away. Shhhh. Save yourself some money and stick it to the man! 

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