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How To Make The Best Penne A La Vodka!

Updated on April 24, 2013

Super Easy and Delicious!

For years I resisted making my own pasta sauces, even though I've long consider myself a pretty darned good at-home chef! As a kid I had lots of friends and neighbors of Italian descent, and every one of them seemed to have a mother or grandmother or uncle or cousin who made The Best Tomato Sauce Ever (or "gravy", as they called it).

Even my own German-Irish grandmother made her own tomato sauce, and it seemed like an all-day endeavor that required all sorts of special skills and weird equipment - not to mention a load of fresh tomatoes! There was the blanching and peeling and seeding, the grinding through the food mill, and then the endless hours of simmering on the stove-top. All that effort just seemed like way too much work, especially when I could grab a jar of sauce from the supermarket and heat it in a pan - and even though I could never have said so to any of the people I mentioned above, the stuff from the jar usually tasted better to me than the homemade stuff they all slaved over!

Well that all changed a few years back when I discovered that canned tomatoes are not the demon-spawn I had always been told they were! I had always believed that canned tomatoes were little better than jarred sauce, and using them was just as shameful for a "real" cook who wanted to make "real" Italian food...

If you want a GREAT cookbook, check out this one - It's the only one I turn to on a regular basis...

When I discovered that "real" chefs used canned tomatoes to make their pasta sauce, it was shocking. And when I found some actual recipes for tomato sauce that could be completed in minutes (not hours or days!) it was a revelation. And when I made and tasted those recipes I never looked back.

So here's one of my stand-by pasta recipes - Penne a la Vodka. After the first few times you should be able to make the whole dish in about 30 minutes - the sauce can be completed in the time that it takes to boil the water for the penne!

Penne a la Vodka


  • 1 pound Penne Pasta
  • 1 28 ounce can Whole Peeled Italian Plum Tomatoes
  • 1 pound Italian Sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Medium Sweet Onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove Garlic, crushed (more to taste, if desired)
  • 1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
  • 1/3 cup of Vodka
  • 1/2 cup Heavy Cream
  • Pinch Hot Red Pepper Flakes
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste
  • Fresh Basil, finely chopped


  • Food Processor with Chopping Blade (or a Blender)
  • Large pasta pot (at least 8 quarts)
  • Deep 10-inch Saucepan (I prefer a straight-sided pan, but a traditional sauce pan will work aw well)
  • Pasta Strainer

This is a quick and easy recipe - the sauce can be prepared while the pasta is cooking, and the whole deal can be on the table in half an hour (with some practice!)

  1. First, fill a large pasta pot about 3/4 full of water. Remember, when cooking pasta: the more water the better! When you don't use enough water, the starch from the pasta becomes concentrated in the cooking water and makes the noodles stick together. If you use plenty of water, there is also no need to add oil to the water to prevent the pasta from sticking together - in fact, adding oil can actually prevent the sauce from later sticking to the now-slippery, oil-covered pasta!
  2. Add plenty of salt to the water - kosher salt is best, and you should add a heavy tablespoon of it to the water (or about a teaspoon of table salt). This may sound like a lot, but it mostly goes down the sink when you drain the pasta later, but it gives just enough extra flavor to the pasta to make it wothwhile. (We'll also be adding some of the pasta water to the sauce near the end, so the salt helps flavor the sauce, as well!)
  3. Put the pot of salted water over high heat (covered) and let it come to a boil as we prepare the sauce.

To try to ensure that the sauce and pasta are done at the same time, I'll list the prep steps in optimal order:

1. Open the can of tomatoes and strain the juice into a large bowl or measuring cup. Place most of the whole tomatoes into the bowl of your food processor and pulse several times until pureed. Add the remaining few tomatoes and pulse quickly to chop - this will give the sauce a slightly chunky texture. Pour the processed tomatoes into a measuring cup and add enough of the reserved juice to make 2 cups of sauce.

2. Finely dice the half onion.

3. Measure out the 1/3 cup of vodka.

4. Cut the sausage into 1-inch pieces. Or, you can remove the casing from the sausage and cut/tear it into bite-size chunks.

(If you don't want to rush yourself, these first four steps can be done before you start boiling the water - in fact, the first few times you make this it might be best to do so. Then, once you get the hang of the recipe, you can save a lot of time by doing all of this while the water is boiling...)

5. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the saucepan and turn the heat to high. Once the oil starts to shimmer (1-2 minutes), add the sausage, cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-high and brown the meat. Once it has browned, stir it to brown the other side (still covered). This should only take a few minutes more.
Make sure to cook the sausage thoroughly, but don't let it burn!
Once the sausage has cooked through, remove it to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set it aside - but leave all that tasty fat in the saucepan!

6. Add the diced onion to the hot sausage fat in the sauce pan. Add the garlic, tomato paste, pepper flakes and a dash of salt - the salt here will encourage the onions to release their moisture as they cook for a more intense flavor. Let the onions sauté until they're just lightly browned and translucent. Pour the vodka into the pan (don't pour straight from the bottle - that's a good way to start a fire!) and let it boil away for a few seconds, then stir to mix it with the onions. After 30 seconds or so you should notice a strong whiff of alcohol - that's the alcohol evaporating out of the pan. Once you smell that (or after about 45 seconds if you don't) you're ready for the next step...

7. Add the tomatoes to the onion-vodka mixture and stir to incorporate thoroughly. Turn the heat down to medium/medium-low (it's okay if bubbles slightly, but it shouldn't be boiling).

8. By now the water for the pasta should be boiling, so add the pasta to the pot. Cook according to the directions on the box - this should be around 8-10 minutes, which is just how long the sauce needs to finish!

9. When there is about 1 minute left for the pasta to finish cooking, scoop out a ladle-full of the water and pour it into the sauce. Stir the sauce and taste for seasoning - add salt and pepper, if needed.

10. Drain the pasta and return it to the cooking pot. Turn off the heat under the sauce and add the basil and the cream, stirring to incorporate - the sauce should be slightly pink. Add the sausage to the pan and stir to cover. Pour the sauce over the pasta and stir thoroughly.

11. Serve with Parmesan cheese, if you like, and enjoy!

As an alternative to sausage, you can use about 1/4 pound of finely chopped pancetta. It's a little pricey, but very tasty! Also, if you aren't into pork this should work well with your favorite meatball recipe. It's even good with grilled chicken or shrimp, or with no meat at all...

This Recipe is from Edweirdo's Cookbook!

Looking for more fast and easy cooking recipes?

Check out Edweirdo's Cookbook for great FREE recipes online!

Cook Your Pasta The RIGHT Way!

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Submit a Comment

  • JD Barlow profile image

    JD Barlow 

    7 years ago from Southeast US

    Great recipe! I will have to try it.

  • Edweirdo profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from United States

    @Daniela - Sure I did! It's in step 10: "Turn off the heat under the sauce and add the basil and the **cream**, stirring to incorporate"

    Somehow I already feel that you will love this recipe ;)

  • profile image


    7 years ago


  • profile image

    Italian Penne Dish 

    7 years ago

    OHG...This is probably the only way to make Italian food better...just when I thought there was no way. Vodka Penne dish, that is remarkable and one I will have to share with my Vodka loving brother!

  • profile image

    Nelle Hoxie 

    8 years ago

    I love penne cooked this way. Great first hubs. Well written and designed. Looking forward to reading more of your hubs.

  • profile image

    Dr H 

    8 years ago

    Great Hub ,

    thanks for being my fan club member.I have decided to make you president, there is a salary of 14 old shillings and six pence (or the equivalent in poultry)which is deferred for ten years but i will make sure you get it.

    I expect a news letter once a year and groupies vetted and sent to my trailer.

    Good luck with the writing and i shall be keeping an eye on your hubs.

    I will hopefully write more soon but have been real busy with work .

    All the best

    Dr H

    P.S. give my love to N.J. i was only there once back in 99,i lost a snickers pencil-case which had my favourite sharpie in it (it was green) ,if you find it can you keep it till i come back.


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