Penne Pasta w/ Spicy Vodka Tomato-Cream Sauce


It has been a long stressful week and I am in need of comfort food.  Nothing speaks comfort to me more than pasta and this recipe with its spicy vodka tomato-cream sauce is just the ticket.  It is easy, delicious and it pleases everyone.  When I have featured this recipe in class it has been met with rave reviews and many reports have come back about how it has been adapted to individual tastes.  More spicy, less spicy, added shrimp, topped with grilled salmon, added prosciutto and the list goes on.  I love it as is and tend to make plenty so I can eat the leftovers later.  Sometimes I eat it hot, sometimes cold.  Either way it works for me and brings me home to my roots. 


1/4 c extra virgin olive oil

4 plump fresh garlic cloves, minced

1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes (more or less depending on taste)

28 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes (whole peeled) in juice

1 lb Italian penne pasta, dried

2-4 T vodka

1/4-1/2 c heavy whipping cream

1/4 c + flat leaf parsley, chopped

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste


  1. In an unheated saute pan large enough to hold the pasta, combine the oil, garlic, crushed red pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Stir to coat with the oil.  Cook over medium heat until garlic turns golden but not brown, 2-3 minutes.
  2. With your hands, coarsely crush the tomatoes in a bowl with the juices.  I always use whole tomatoes as opposed to diced as I want to be sure the tomatoes are plum or roma and not a mixture of different tomatoes that vary in water content.  Add to the oil, garlic mixture and stir to blend.  Simmer, uncovered, until sauce begins to thicken, about 15 minutes.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
  3. Meanwhile, bring 5-6 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large pot.  Add  3 T sea salt (Italian chefs say, the water should taste like the sea) and the pasta, stir.  Cook until tender but firm to the bite about 2-3 minutes less than package instructions.  Pasta will cook more in the sauce so do not overcook.  Drain thoroughly.
  4. Add the drained pasta to the sauce and toss to coat.  Add the vodka and toss again.  Add the cream and toss again.  Cover, reduce heat to low and allow to cook for 1-2 minutes allowing pasta to absorb the sauce.  Add the parsley, reserving a small amount, and toss thoroughly. 
  5. Transfer to warm shallow bowls or a warmed pasta platter, sprinkle with  remaining parsley and serve.

Traditionally, cheese is not served with this dish but you can add some Parmiagiano-Reggiano  on the top if desired.

Believe me when I say this is a simple recipe.  My husband who rarely cooks loves it so much he learned to make it for himself.  He once adapted it to his taste by using ouzo in place of vodka adding a light note of fennel.   Don’t want to buy a large bottle of vodka?  Those small airplane size bottles, available at most liquor stores, are just the exact amount.

This is a plate of food that will chase the blues away.  I hope you find this dish comforting to your body and soul.  I would love to hear from you.







One response to “Penne Pasta w/ Spicy Vodka Tomato-Cream Sauce

  1. Terri Schider

    I first tasted this dish at one of your cooking classes and it has become my favorite recipe. I usually make a double batch of the sauce and top it off with fresh basil. Just writing about it makes me want to start cooking!

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