Penne alla Vodka is one of our favorite dishes. The sauce is the perfect balance of rich and creamy without being overbearing like a heavy alfredo sauce. This variation marries the traditional vodka sauce with an earthy pesto, and the spice level gets kicked up a notch with crushed red pepper flakes. If you don't like spicy foods, you can leave out the red pepper flakes entirely. We promise we won't judge!
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1–2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup vodka (use a “bottom shelf” brand)
3/4 cup basil pest
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound penne pasta
3 tablespoons salted butter
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1/4 cup fresh basil roughly chopped
Bring a large pot of salted water over medium high heat.
Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. When the oil is warmed, add the shallot, garlic, and oregano. Cook until the shallots begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low, add the tomato paste and red pepper flakes, cook 4-5 minutes, until thickened. Remove pan from heat. Stir in the vodka,, return to heat, and cook another 2 minutes. Stir in the pesto and cream. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm over low heat.
Once salted water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook 2 minutes shy of package directions, or until al dente. Just before draining, remove 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water. Drain.
To the vodka sauce, add the pasta, 1/2 cup pasta cooking water, and the butter, tossing until the butter has melted. Add the parmesan and basil. If needed, thin the sauce with additional pasta cooking water.
After dishing pasta, just before serving, garnish with basil and cheese.
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