Penne Alla Vodka

Penne Alla Vodka

Penne Alla Vodka can be seen on nearly any Italian-American menu including pizzerias.  While many say it is an Italian inspired American dish, others say it was popular in Italy prior to the 1980s but not much earlier than the 1970s. Supposedly vodka distillers wanted to introduce vodka to the Italians and of course, the only way to introduce anything to Italians, is via food.

The vodka they would use would be grape-based.  Vodka is typically distilled from potatoes or wheat, but the French make a grape vodka called Ciroc and there is an Italian vodka called Mezzaluna.

Either way, its a delicious dish to break from the usual red marinara sauce.  While it uses tomatoes, the cream brings it to another level.  There are many variations of this recipe. Some do not use garlic, others onion instead of shallots, and some even use pancetta.  I personally believe that Italian dishes should be vegetarian when they can be, its just the traditional Mediterranean way.  Adding a pat of butter at the end will help emulsify the sauce and give it that creamy texture to cling to the pasta. I have even seen a couple tablespoons of peas mixed in.  All this is fine, but again, for me, the simpler the better, which is what Italian cuisine is all about.


  • 1/2 Cup Crushed Tomatoes (canned is fine)
  • 1/2 Box Penne Pasta (Rigate works fine too, anything short with ridges but that is a personal choice)
  • 3 Cloves finely sliced Garlic and/or 1/2 Finely chopped shallots or 1/2 small onion
  • 1 Pinch Red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 to 1/3 Cream (heavy, light or half & half)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Fresh Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Butter (optional)
  • 2-3 ounces Vodka

In a large pot of salted boiling water add in your pasta of choice.  I think it should be penne or rigatoni, anything short, hollow and has ridges to hold the thick sauce.  This will take at least 15-20 minutes to boil the water and cook the pasta.

In a large skillet over low heat add the olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic shallots and a pinch of salt. Once it starts to get soft after a few minutes, add the vodka and allow it to burn off for a few minutes. Some add the vodka at the end, but obviously the alcohol will still be in there. I personally think the purpose of the vodka is the residual taste of the spirit and to deglaze the pan.

Add in your crushed tomatoes, heat, and slowly whisk in the cream.  Cook and drain your pasta well.  Add some grated cheese, fresh black pepper and add the pasta to the sauce and continue to cook for at least 2 minutes.  Serve with more grated cheese, and/or garnish with finely chopped parsley.



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