Thursday, March 31, 2011

Penne with Vodka Sauce

I can't remember if I've ever had vodka sauce at a restaurant, but I know for sure that I've never made it at home until now. I don't know what me took so long - it calls for half-n-half and vodka, two things I almost always have on hand. The recipe I found online is by Giada De Laurentiis and it's very simple. You start with marinara sauce, add vodka, and simmer until most of the alcohol cooks out. Then you stir in some half-n-half and Parmesan, toss with cooked penne, and you're done!

She suggests a recipe for homemade marinara sauce that you can use, but also says you can use jarred sauce instead. I love homemade pasta sauce, but both times I have made this dish I was looking for something quick and easy, without a lot of fuss. So jarred sauce it was.

From experience, I can tell you that when she says to blend the sauce before simmering, she's not just saying it to fill space in the recipe directions. Simmering pasta sauce has got to be one of the most spattery things you can do in a kitchen, and chunky sauce makes it so much worse. The first time I made this, I thought the sauce I was using looked fairly smooth already, so I didn't bother to blend it. The result? I had little burns all over my arms and a horrible mess on the stovetop and kitchen floor. The second time, I went over the sauce a few times with my immersion blender and had a much less eventful simmering period. There was a little mess, one or two minor spatter burns, but it paled in comparison to the bloodbath that was the first time. Bottom line, blend your sauce, whether you use jarred or homemade.

Of course, the actual recipe calls for heavy cream. Not too much, just half a cup, spread out over about six servings. But I almost always swap out heavy cream for half-n-half in these kinds of situations, if I think it won't make a noticeable difference in taste or texture. Just for the record, I'm not talking about the oxymoron dairy product that is called "fat-free half-n-half". That's just nonfat milk that's been thickened with additives. Weird, no thanks.

Penne with Vodka Sauce
adapted from The Food Network - Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 6

1 quart (32 ounces) homemade or jarred marinara sauce, blended until smooth
1 cup vodka
1/2 cup half-n-half or heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for topping individual servings
1 pound penne

Measure out the half-n-half or cream and set it aside on the counter while you cook the meal, so it warms up to room temperature.

Combine the marinara sauce and vodka in a large heavy skillet. Simmer gently over low heat for about 20-25 minutes. Partially cover with a lid or cover with a splatter screen if desired. The sauce should reduce by about 1/4, but that's a hard thing to measure, so I tasted it occasionally to decide when it was done. When it no longer tastes like you're just sipping straight vodka, i.e., it tastes like delicious marinara, it's done. Stir in the half-n-half or cream, and keep simmering over low heat for a few minutes, just until it's heated through. Add the Parmesan and stir until melted and well blended.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente, about 8 minutes. It should be tender yet still firm when you bite into it. Drain and add to the pot of sauce, stirring gently to combine.

Serve with extra Parmesan for topping your individual bowls.


  1. What a mouthwatering and homey pasta dish!

  2. Yes, sounds delicious! I think we should try again with a different recipe (with more detailed instructions) on canning our own pasta sauce this year.

  3. Amy - I agree! I also want to make mozzarella!


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