Recipe by Emily Paster

Spicy Penne a la Vodka

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Dairy Dairy
Easy Easy
6 Servings
20 Minutes

Pasta with vodka sauce became a popular Italian-American restaurant dish in the late ’70s and early ‘80s. Happily, it is easy to recreate this restaurant favorite at home. The secret to a deep, richly flavored sauce is using a generous amount of tomato paste. Red pepper flakes add a hint of heat. Shallots are preferable to onions here because of the way they disappear into the smooth sauce.


Spicy Penne a la Vodka

  • 1 (28 ounce) can peeled whole tomatoes

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 1/4 cup vodka

  • fresh basil, for garnish


Prepare Spicy Penne a la Vodka


Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add one tablespoon salt.


While the water is coming to a boil, make the sauce: heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add the shallots and sauté over medium-low heat until softened, but not browned, about five minutes.


Add the garlic, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the red pepper flakes and sauté an additional minute until fragrant. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Sauté the mixture until the tomato paste begins to caramelize, about three minutes.


Add the tomatoes with their juices, crushing the tomatoes with your hands or the back of a wooden spoon to break them up.


Raise the heat to high and bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the cream and stir to combine.


When the water is boiling, cook the penne for one to two minutes less than the package directions so that it is slightly undercooked.


Add the vodka to the sauce just before the pasta is finished cooking and stir to combine.


Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and add the pasta directly to the skillet with the sauce. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce until it is al dente. If the sauce is too thick, add the reserved cooking water a few tablespoons at a time until the sauce is the right consistency.


Serve immediately garnished with chopped fresh basil.


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Spicy Penne a la Vodka

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George Wankmueller
George Wankmueller
2 years ago

I made this and it was great’, one change I did. Wife don’t like red sauce, so I used a 14 oz crushed tomatoes and 1 can of tomato paste, then thinned it out with the pasta water, had to add 1 tablespoon more of the crushed red pepper flakes. Then it was done not that spicy, but spicy enough for me. Thanks for the recipe!