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What Is Penne Alla Vodka?

By N. Swensson
Updated May 16, 2024
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Penne alla vodka is a pasta dish with a creamy tomato sauce. The primary ingredients are usually penne pasta, which are long tube-shaped noodles similar to ziti or rigatoni, canned or fresh tomatoes, vodka, and heavy cream, although there are almost endless variations and optional ingredients. The recipe is often called Italian, although tomato cream sauces are usually an American invention and are popular in restaurants all over the United States. Penne alla vodka can be a quick and easy dinner option or a great way to use leftover vodka from a party. Like many pasta dishes, it is important to cook the noodles properly, as they are the base of the meal and affect its overall quality and taste.

When making pasta, it’s a good idea to begin heating the water before preparing the sauce so that it comes to a boil in plenty of time. Some cooks add salt or olive oil to the cooking water to add flavor and prevent sticking, although properly cooked pasta is usually not sticky. While pasta consistency is a matter of personal taste, following the package directions for cooking time will usually result in al dente pasta, which is slightly chewy and firm.

Penne alla vodka recipes usually start with sautéeing garlic in olive oil or butter, although it is important to watch garlic closely to avoid overcooking. It should be heated for just a few minutes until fragrant, as it can quickly burn and become very bitter. For a lighter garlic flavor, a cook should crush the whole cloves and cook them, but remove them before serving. At this point a variety of meats, including, bacon, prosciutto, or chicken, can be added to the pan.

Canned or fresh tomatoes are added after the garlic and meats to form the base of the vodka sauce. Canned tomatoes can be chopped or mashed in the pan, while fresh ones can be peeled, seeded, and chopped into bite-sized pieces. These ingredients should be simmered until the tomatoes begin to break down and form the sauce. At this point, the vodka is added and allowed to cook for a few minutes until the alcohol smell is gone. Then the cook lowers the heat and slowly adds the cream. The cook then stirs the sauce frequently at this point, as cream sauces can scorch quickly.

At this point, some cooks drain the pasta and pour the sauce on top, while others add the penne to the pot of sauce so it can absorb more of the flavor. Just before serving, penne alla vodka can be garnished with fresh herbs like basil or parsley. Parmesan cheese can be mixed in to the dish or passed at the table.

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