Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce

Pennette alla Vodka

Penne Vodka Cream 2

Note: This post was inadvertently posted earlier than I had planned. The”Crostata” recipe, which was scheduled for Wednesday, will be delayed until next week. Thanks for your understanding.

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I really cannot recall just when I started making this dish. I do know it was around the time I moved here, to my current home, about 13 or 14 years ago. Being that I was tending bar at the time, in retrospect, finding another means of consuming alcohol of any kind doesn’t seem like the best of ideas. Still, regardless of when or why I started making this tomato sauce, it remains a favorite of mine, both for its simplicity and great taste.

Basically, this is nothing more than a tomato sauce laced with cream and vodka. It really is that simple. Over the years, what began as a meatless dish has evolved and I now make it using prosciutto, although I have been known to serve it using ham, pancetta or even shrimp.  You can pretty much use whatever protein you want and about the only thing you cannot skip is the vodka. Do that and all you’ve got is a marinara sauce with some cream added to it — not that there’s anything wrong with that. As for the brand of vodka to use, I opt for a higher quality brand, often “tasting” it first, in my kitchen, just to make sure that I’ve chosen wisely. Higher quality, however, doesn’t mean top shelf and I certainly will not be cooking with the highest quality vodka available. My basic rule of thumb is that if it’s good enough for my martini, it’s good enough for my pasta.

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These are a few of my Favorite Things

These are a few of my Favorite Things

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Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 – 1/3 lb. chopped prosciutto, cooked ham, or pancetta (optional for vegetarians)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, (optional)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup vodka
  • 1 large (28 oz.) can tomatoes, diced or crushed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb penne pasta
  • reserved pasta water
  • grated pecorino romano cheese

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over med-low heat.
  2. Add pork product and slowly render the fat. Do not cook until crisp.
  3. Increase heat to med-high. Add butter, then onion, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. If needed, add some olive oil.
  4. Season with salt & pepper, add the garlic, and continue sautéing for another minute
  5. Remove pan from heat, add vodka, stir to combine, return to heat. Have a pan lid nearby to smother the flame should the vodka ignite. Allow to reduce for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add tomatoes, cream, parsley, season with salt and pepper, stir thoroughly, bring to a boil, and reduce to a low simmer.
  7. After sauce has simmered for 20 minutes, begin heating a large pot of salted water in which to cook the penne. Cook the pasta per package directions, cooking until about 2 minutes before al dente.
  8. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, strain the penne, and add the pasta to the tomato sauce.
  9. Continue cooking the combined pasta and sauce until the pasta is done to your liking. Add some of the reserved pasta water to the pan if the pasta becomes dry during this last step of the cooking process.
  10. Just before serving, add the basil, mix well, and garnish the serving platter with grated pecorino romano cheese.
  11. Serve immediately.

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Penne Vodka Cream 1

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Variations

One needn’t use meat to make this dish and a pound of large shrimp, cut in half, is a worthy substitute. If you do use shrimp, however, add them to the sauce just before you add the pasta. The shrimp only need a couple of minutes to cook, during which the pasta should finish cooking. Remember: no cheese!

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Coming soon to a monitor near you … Just not as soon as you thought it would

Crostata Preview

Crostata

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135 thoughts on “Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce

  1. I’ve only ever used a jar version of this sauce, and honestly have never looked at ingredients to see if there is really any vodka in it….I’ll look now. But this is so easy, and I can be certain will taste so much better that this will be put in to my recipe file. How much cream should be added?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, Angeline. The recipe was mistakenly published far too early and contained some errors. I’ve corrected them all, so, be sure to get the new version of the recipe before you start cooking. As for the cream, you’ll need 1 cup of heavy cream and add it when you add the tomatoes and parsley.

      Like

  2. I absolutely love simple sauces like that. Can you believe that my Italian husband doesn’t much care for a red sauce?! But luckily he drinks vodka, so I will have it on hand when I want to make this for me. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your husband isn’t alone. I’ve family members who feel much the same way. They’ll eat it but prefer their pasta dressed differently. Since he’s a vodka lover, put him in charge of quality control, making sure he has a “taste” before, during, and after cooking. Bet he has a more favorable impression of the red sauce. 🙂

      Like

    • It’s pretty much a rule in Italy, Colline, that grated cheese is not added to pasta made with seafood. On more than one occasion, I’ve been told by a waiter that cheese wouldn’t be served with my dinner. Mind, I never asked for cheese but they assume because I’m American, I’ll want cheese. 🙂

      Like

    • As many pasta dishes that I’ve enjoyed, I can honestly say that root beer was never included in any of them. You may be onto something. Do give it a try and let me know how it goes. I cannot wait to hear. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this dish! And don’t make it often enough. Next time I do, though, I’ll be trying your recipe — it looks better than mine! I’ll stop by later in the week to see the pictures. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure your recipe is every bit as good, if not better, John, than the one I posted. Tell you what. You prepare mine and I’ll make yours. That won’t really settle anything but I always welcome the opportunity to bring the vodka bottle into the kitchen. 🙂

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  4. Who needs photos with such a delicious sauce?! I can just picture myself sitting in your kitchen looking after the vodka bottle while you cook, pouring us some “taster samples”, then a splosh for the sauce before we move onto the meal and some vino. I might have to slip Max a little piece of prosciutto too 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • It wasn’t just the photos, Tanya. The recipe really wasn’t at all ready and contained a few errors and omissions. Luckily, I know that recipe like the back of my hand and quickly corrected them. The photos, though, were a little tricky but they’re in place, too. Funny. I had planned to spend the afternoon working on the blog trying to get caught up. Well, I did spend the afternoon working on the blog — and I’m further behind than ever. I just cannot win! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. O M G John – I simply ADORE Vodka Sauce !! I hadnever had it… or even heard of it… until we moved to Malta about 15 years ago now. While living in Malta, we used to go to this wonderful little restaurant right on the water… which we could walk to… and it was there that I fell in LOVE with vodka sauce !! Thanks so much for posting this recipe. I’ve ‘played around’ with preparing vodka sauce but there’s nothing like a recipe From the Bartolini Kitchens!! ; o )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, how I envy you your time in Malta, Cecile. That would be living the dream, for me. Thanks for the vote of confidence but I’m willing to bet that your vodka-cream sauce is a very good one and probably at least as good as mine here. If you do try this one, please let me know what you think. I’m very interested in knowing. 🙂

      Like

  6. Yum. We always have a bottle of vodka in the house, not particularly for drinking but for cooking. I use it for oyster (Bloody Mary) shooters, and poaching berries, fruit. Now I can add vodka sauce to my repertoire. It sounds divine… my taste buds and imagination cobbled together their own picture 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I, too, always have vodka in the house but it doesn’t always make it into a pot, EllaDee. 🙂
      This is a great sauce but it’s not the first time I’ve used vodka in a pasta dish. Pasta al Salmone uses a vodka cream sauce but this one doesn’t use tomatoes and the protein is smoked salmon. It’s worth a try.

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    • Hey, Celi! Yes, it’s really a basic sauce that you add some cream and vodka to the pot. You ca’t get much more simple than that. Weren’t the last couple days been fantastic? Looks like they’re coming to an end, though, as is Daylight Savings Time. It’s going to seem awfully cold and dark this Sunday afternoon. 🙂

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    • I do love vodka-cream sauce, Laura, and, yes, the alcohol does burn off, almost immediately. Be sure to take the pot off of the flame when you add the vodka to prevent flare ups. You’ll see that it immediately starts boiling as the alcohol evaporates.

      Like

  7. Ooo love the sound and simplicity of tomatoes, vodka, cream, shrimp, pasta. There would be one happy man at my table if I put a combo of those ingredients in front of him for dinner. That crostata pic is staring me in the face again…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Maria! I’ve been meaning to post the crostata recipe for some time but always seem to forget about it in the holiday rush. This year, I intend to post it early so that it won’t be forgotten again. 🙂

      Like

  8. What a surprise to open my mailbox and find a recipe from you in front of me on a Monday morning ! A delightful one too!! Now short spirit drinks are lethal for me who has never understood the word ‘sip’ but I cannot claim Estonian heritage without a bottle of vodka in the freezer 🙂 ! Shall certainly try what difference the spirit makes but a glass of dry white will be on the kitchen table whilst prep is on! Note you have used both parsley and basil . . . lovely extra flavour there . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve got limoncello in the freezer and vodka on the bar, Eha. 🙂
      I made an error and this recipe went out far too early. I had wanted to get the blog caught up over the weekend and now, thanks to my error, I’m ever further behind. Oh, well …
      This is a great pasta, Eha, and i do enjoy it — as well as a couple of tastes of vodka, purely for quality assurance. 🙂

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  9. How very exciting John… I was planning on making a very similar dish to this for dinner tonight, using chorizo instead of prosciutto. I’m so pleased I saw your post just now, so that I have time to duck out and buy a bottle of vodka! Can’t wait for that crostata post – I’ll be making that for sure too! Hope you’re well! Cheers, Margot

    Like

  10. Well, it seems I am going to be moving in for a while. There are far too many wonderful recipes to et through in a vacation time visit. Tell Max I will be brining him lots of treats too.
    Have a wonderful day friend.
    🙂 Mandy xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Stefan. This is an old favorite — as is vodka. 🙂
      I, too, prepare a smoked salmon with a vodka-cream sauce but there are no tomatoes. I fell in love with that dish during my first trip to Italy and the love affair hasn’t dimmed in the slightest.

      Like

  11. It’s only in the last few years that I realised vodka was used in pasta recipes. I made a pasta with vodka and was a little nervous about it but found it turned out really well. It too had cream and tomatoes. I think this is a wonderfully comforting dish with plenty of flavour xx

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I adore this simple dish, truly one of my favs. By sampling, did you mean a thimble-full or the tall elegant v-shaped vessel style? I’ve had this pasta in a restaurant with salmon and it’s amazing. No wonder I love it so much, it really does have my poison of choice in the ingredients.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Eva. I wish I could say that a thimble-full is all I needed but I’ve a serious taste bud deficiency and require a much larger quantity of vodka to accurately assess its quality. That’s my story and it’s the one I’m sticking with. 🙂
      See you soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. cheers! salute John! 🙂 have you ever tasted the famous polish Żubrówka vodka aka Bison Grass Vodka?… wow of the wow! 🙂 btw, we call “a colonel” a lemon sorbet “covered” by a teaspoon of fine vodka!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Melanie! No, I am not familiar with that brand of Vodka but I should be able to find it here. Chicago has a Polish population that is second in size only to Warsaw. Looks like I’ll have to go vodka shopping — and maybe pick up a bit of lemon sorbet. 🙂

      Like

    • Hello, Stacey. This is a great dish of pasta, all right. I hate to admit it but I’ve no meatball recipe. It wasn’t something that Mom made. I can only remember her making them a couple of times when I was very young. I really don’t have a recipe but this is what I do: I use ground beef and pork in a 50-50 ratio. To that I add grated cheese, bread crumbs, an egg, salt, pepper, chopped parsley, and a little sage. I brown the meatballs first before adding them to the pot of tomato sauce. I hope this helps.

      Like

    • Thanks, Amanda. It’s a shame to anticipate a great dish of pasta, only to find it’s been over-cooked. When in Italy last May, every dish of pasta was perfectly cooked. I was in heaven!

      Like

  14. It’s funny how some dishes are regional. I’d never heard of this until my daughter went to school in Connecticut and there were a lot of kids from NY and NJ. They were all familiar with this dish and of course the restaurants around the college served it. Of course I had to figure out how to make it after trying it myself. I think putting proscuitto in there is a great idea and since I haven’t made this in a while, it’s going to be coming up in my kitchen by next week.
    Of course you have to taste test – no way could you just go dumping any old vodka in the sauce, that would not be very responsible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I’m sure you know, the food in Italy varies from district to district, even town to town. Interesting that here, in the Great Melting Pot, the same is true. I don’t really know where I first learned of this dish — either a restaurant or cooking show — but I sure am glad I did. It’s a favorite and I enjoy it often.
      As for the vodka. I think you’d be surprised to learn just how responsible I am in the kitchen. 😀

      Like

    • Prosciutto is a great variation. My Italian market sell the end piece of the prosciutto leg and I grab them whenever I can. This dish is on the menu that night, to be sure. Your boys sound like me when I was there age. Mom never asked me what I wanted for dinner because the answer was always pasta. That’s pretty much true today, too. 🙂

      Like

  15. I’ve been eating so much pasta lately….but I can never pass up a good vodka sauce. I too have used pancetta, mostly because I always love to flavor my sauce with pork. I like how you used both parsley and basil. While I swore off pasta this week, I just may have to slip this one in. Pasta is pure comfort after a busy work day, and a shot of vodka helps too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • C’mon, Linda. You were in Italy, the place where diets go to die. Except where allergies are concerned, many of us go there with the best of intentions but cannot resist the many delectable dishes offered. I once travelled with a vegetarian who, after a couple of days, gave in and ate meat, making me take an oath of silence. 🙂
      When it comes to Italian cooking, our (family) styles are very similar. I almost always include a bit of pork when I prepare a meat sauce. Love the flavor it adds.

      Like

  16. Lovely post John. Particularly nice and simple. I hate it when I muck up my posting schedule. Earlier on, I managed to post two recipes on the same day and at the same time. That led to a scramble in the kitchen to try and catch my schedule up again.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Yum and yum! As per usual, I’m salivating. Ironically I’m currently eating sushi in a well recommended restaurant in DC. And I still want this pasta! I’ll be making it with the Roma tomatoes I canned this summer 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Perfection!!! One of my favorite pasta dishes of all time. Glad you posted early, it completely caught my eye. Might even make it this week. It’s hard to see this and not make it almost immediately!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Kristy, and you’re right. Guess what I had for dinner Sunday, even though another meal was planned? I just couldn’t resist making this — or maybe I just wanted to sample the vodka. I can’t seem to remember. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Bonjourno John! I am all about simple dishes. Life has been a world wind lately and I do not know if it is going to be letting up very soon so I best get printing off some of your recipes. I love cooking with alcohol sometimes I even put it in my dishes. I am sure you have heard that one before.. It is not even hump day and the weekend can’t come soon enough. Have a super day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Buongiorno BAM! I often wonder what my celebratory dinners would be like — better or worse — if I didn’t cook with alcohol. I guess I’ll never know. 🙂
      I fully understand your need for quick meals right now and hope that you’ll find a few here. Good luck and take care, BAM. Have a good week.

      Like

  20. The last comment about the Crostini–what a chuckle! I am waiting for that recipe, certainly, but this Penne is no slouch! Fresh basil was in my produce box and I’d love to try a new pasta recipe. Wonderful directions, John, and thank you for reminding me to have a lid handy in case of igniton! I won’t panic. LOL! Now I’m torn between pancetta and shrimp, but I’ll figure that out. 🙂

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  21. John, funny I was just thinking about this sauce and there it was. How terribly convenient. I like the simple sauces. Aglio olio is another simple one I make often. Absolute, good choice. We have so much alcohol left over from our restaurant we could open a bar. Rick doesn’t drink at all and I drink socially once and a while so this would be a good use for all that vodka. Liquor vendors came in often while we were open showing off their wares. Some of the vodkas were very expensive and really unique. Crostata looks yummy – I’ll check back. 🙂

    Like

  22. I just mentioned this recipe to my favourite husband. Without skipping a beat, he said, “You know we have to try it.”

    I spent part of every weekend last September making tomato sauce. For all my Sauce Experimenting, I’m still not happy with the results. HOWEVER, I think adding cream and some vodka will give the sauce a nice, rich taste. Thanks for posting this!

    Like

  23. This is such a great dish, John! My family loves it! It was very popular in Italy during the 80s. I remember my mother cooking pasta alla vodka like crazy. Unfortunately nowadays it is not that popular on the Italian tables but we keep making it over and over!!!

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  24. I thought I “liked” this on FB Tuesday. If it’s Tuesday, it’s not Bartolini Kitchen time- yet.
    Glad to see this recipe cause I am going to make this. Sure looks like a big bottle of vodka there, John, and the good stuff! There will be no shrimp at the Grandchildren’s house anymore as Maura had a severe allergic reaction to a Langostino and turns out all shell fish is now verboten. Oh dear. Really scary.
    Thanks for all your visits to my blog and the creative and witty comments that all the followers enjoy. Will look forward to the Crostata when it posts next week, too.

    Like

  25. Pingback: Take the Bartolini Challenge | Stolon Kisses

    • You really do crack me up! I cannot believe that you actually prepared pasta with a root beer-infused sauce. You’re too much! Good on you for pulling it off and thank you for the mention. I see I’ll have to be a bit more careful when speaking with you. 🙂

      Like

  26. Ohhh boy – vodka and cream sound like the perfect marriage John. I like the shrimp suggestion too. And yes, very important to taste the alcohol first to ensure it’s suitable. I find multiple testings are wise, just to be safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. This has always been a dish I’ve reserved for ordering when dining out…and I have no idea why now that you’ve posted the recipe. It really is quite simple…at least with your thorough instructions, John. 🙂 I’m soooo making this…and soon! Thanks for the nudge!

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is an old Italian recipe, Nancy, and most of them are quite simple to prepare. Way back when, Nonnas did the cooking and they didn’t have one tenth of today’s spices and ingredients. Back then, simple was best and it’s still true today. Give this recipe a try and I doubt you’ll ever pay for it again.
      Nudge, nudge … 🙂

      Like

  28. You know John I’ve never cooked with Vodka, so I’m really curious about the taste. I don’t have any vodka at the moment so what a shame that I can’t try it immediately. The addition of protein in form of prosciutto is a great idea too! I hope I shall get some Vodka soon…have a great week!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The vodka will surprise you, Liz. Though it adds flavor, you won’t be tasting vodka. Not only does the alcohol boil away but the cream will, also, mask the alcohol flavor. The result is one great tasting dish of pasta. 🙂

      Like

  29. Pingback: Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce | thebrookcook

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