Penne Alla Vodka. How can a dish taste so good and be so easy to make?
Nothing says comfort as pasta does. A great dish that can be enjoyed in so many different ways.
Besides penne pasta, this dish contains cream sauce mixed with tomato sauce, a very unusual combination in Italian cooking.
And vodka is added to the beautiful sauce to create this fantastic dish, the second most popular pasta dish besides Ragu alla Bolognese.
Penne alla Vodka became very popular in Italy and the United States around the 1980s.
It became an icon of the fashionable cuisine of the time. It remains popular to this day in Italian-American cuisine.
However, the exact origins of penne alla vodka are unclear. Its history is disputed among Italian and New York City chefs as to which country invented Penne alla Vodka.
In the 1980s, two individuals in New York City claimed they had invented the recipe.
A Columbia University student, James Doty, claimed to have made the first plate of pasta.
The second claim comes from Chef Luigi Franzese of Orsini Restaurant. He originally called it Penne alla Russa – Penne alla Russian – because he used vodka to thin the sauce.
On the other side of the ocean, in Bologna and Rome, Italy, this dish was introduced around 1970 or 1980.
Dante restaurant in Bologna claims to be the first to invent this dish,
However, in Rome, a Roman chef claims that he created this dish upon the request of a vodka company to introduce vodka to the Italian public.
Today you will see this dish practically on every American restaurant menu and rarely on menus in Italy restaurants.
Can penne alla vodka get you drunk?
No, you cant. As you cook the vodka with the sauce, the alcohol evaporates, leaving behind an excellent taste.
If you have children, do not worry about the alcohol content as it evaporates in the cooking process.
Why San Marzano Tomatoes?
San Marzano is a type of plum tomato. Longer and thinner than your typical plum tomato. Vibrant red in color and rich in flavor.
They also have fewer seeds than your regular plum tomatoes.
Besides having fewer seeds, they have less acidity than other tomatoes. Idyllic for Italian cuisine.
San Marzano tomatoes are regulated and certified authentic by an independent party, making them a bit more pricey than your regular tomatoes.
However, once you cook with them, there is no going back.
Here are a few helpful tips for the ingredients needed
You can find the printable recipe with all the suitable ingredient amounts at the bottom of this post.
Penne pasta: The perfect pasta as it holds the juicy sauce inside, and when you bite into all the flavors are there for you to enjoy. If none are on hand and you do not want to make a run for the store, rigatoni and ziti will be good substitutes. The pasta must be tubular.
Yellow Onion: Milder and sweeter once you let it sweat out and become translucent.
Garlic clove: Gives that perfect kick to your sauce. I always toss the garlic as they do in Italy. I leave that one up to you.
San Marzano Tomato: Long and thin tomatoes that taste amazing with all tomatoes sauces
Vodka: Do not use flavored vodka with this dish. I love Grey Goose. Neutral and perfect for this dish. It gives you a lot of flavors but does not compromise the overall dish.
Heavy Cream: the secret arsenal to bring down the tomatoes’ acidity and enhance your dish’s flavor.
Parmesan Cheese: It could not be an Italian dish if you do not give a few cheese grates to your pasta. Always a welcome addition to all pasta.
Unsalted butter: It will not modify or oversalt your sauce and dish.
Flat-leaf Italian parsley: Fresh parsley brings great flavor to all dishes.
I only recommend what I use and love. To achieve this recipe, I used the following:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to al dente package instruction, 11 to 13 minutes. Reserve ½ cup pasta water and drain pasta.
In a large skillet, large enough to hold all of the cooked pasta, over medium heat add olive oil, onions and garlic. Sautee until translucent, about 3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, vodka, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes until alcohol burns off. Stir in heavy cream and butter.
Add the pasta to the skillet with the sauce. Toss the pasta in the sauce over high heat until well coated. Add a little of the cooking water if the sauce is too thick.
Top with Parmesan and parsley and mix gently.
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Originally published on August 22, 2016. Updated on January 26, 2023.