I’ll Drink To Penne with Vodka Sauce

Penne with vodka sauce makes a weeknight dinner feel deliciously special.
Penne with vodka sauce makes a weeknight dinner feel deliciously special.

As you shake and stir cocktails galore this holiday season, try to refrain from polishing off every drop of the vodka.

Instead, save some to make this easy and delicious “Penne with Vodka Sauce.”

It’s from “Simple Pasta” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy. This engaging book is by Odette Williams, the Australia-born cook and writer who now lives in Brooklyn.

It is her second cookbook, after the huge success of her “Simple Cake” (Ten Speed Press), a favorite in my house and named one of the best baking books of 2019 by the New York Times.

Like that book, this one is filled with tempting recipes that aren’t overly complicated but deliver on flavor and pure delight.

It’s a book that you’ll reach for again and again to try your hand at dishes that include making your own fresh pasta or to substituting dried instead, as well as accompaniments like salads, cocktails, and desserts.

The book is divided by seasons with recipes such as “Beef Short Ribs Pappardelle” in winter; “Super-Dirty Preserved Lemon Martini” in spring; “Spaghetti with Sun-Kissed Tomatoes, Ricotta & Crispy Prosciutto” in summer; and “Sesame and Honey Panna Cotta” in autumn.

“Penne with Vodka Sauce” falls squarely in the autumn chapter, but really can be made year-round. The original recipe is titled “Garganelli with Vodka Sauce” and gives instructions for making your own cylindrical egg-noodles from scratch. As a mom with two young kids, Williams knows full well there’s a time and place for making your own pasta. But sometimes, you just need to get dinner on the table. So, she wisely suggests substituting store-bought, dried garganelli or penne instead if you are pressed for time.

The latter is what I went with, which makes this recipe a natural staple for a weeknight.

The sauce comes together quickly with just shallot, garlic, chile, and olive oil heated in a frying pan on the stove. She uses one red Thai chili, which if you know these teeny chilies, carries surprisingly potent heat. I always keep a stash in my freezer. If you don’t have any, Williams suggests using red pepper flakes.

The creamy sauce clings to every noodle.
The creamy sauce clings to every noodle.

Tomato paste gets added, which gives the sauce its orange color. Then, 1/4 cup vodka, which you won’t necessarily taste, but does add roundness to the sauce. Lastly, add a splash of heavy cream, which adds enough body to the sauce so it clings to every noodle.

Boil the pasta, then transfer it to the pot of sauce, along with a little of the pasta cooking water to help emulsify everything. Finish with a shower of Parmigiano-Reggiano and torn basil leaves.

In no time flat, you’ve made a creamy, cheesy pasta with fruity sweetness, acidity, and a tickle of heat.

Serve with a green salad, crusty bread, and a shot of vodka. Because why not?

So simple and so incredibly satisfying.
So simple and so incredibly satisfying.

Penne with Vodka Sauce

(Serve 4)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 shallot, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, grated

1 small red Thai chili, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced, or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1/4 cup vodka

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus more for topping

1/3 cup coarsely chopped basil laves, plus small leaves for topping

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound store-bought dried garganelli or penne

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.

In a large heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat warm the olive oil. Add the shallot, garlic, and chile and saute just until translucent, about 3 minutes.

Add the tomato paste to the pan and cook for another couple of minutes, then pour in the vodka and cook it off for a couple minutes more.

Add the cream to the pan and bring to a gentle simmer for a couple of minutes. Lower the heat and keep the sauce warm.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes or according to package instructions if using store-bought. Using a large spider or slotted spoon, transfer the pasta into the warm sauce, along with 1/4 cup of the pasta water, and toss to coat. Stir in the Parmigiano and basil, then season with the salt.

Serve the pasta topped with additional Parmigiano and small basil leaves.

From “Simple Pasta” by Odette Williams

Another Recipe from Odette Williams to Enjoy: Love, Set, Match Milk and Honey Cake

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