Penne à la Vodka

6.11.10 § 4 Comments

Firstly, I took all the photos in this post with my iPhone, which is what happens when I have an impromptu dinner party at someone else’s house.  Thanks for bearing with me and for forgiving me for sub par photos.

Now, down to business:  I have never really understood what the big deal is about pasta in vodka sauce.  In my life, I’ve known lots of people who love it and honestly, after trying it and being disappointed on more than one occasion, I had pretty much decided that the hype results mostly from the fact that it has vodka in it.  Like, “Oooh, look at me and my badass, grownup, pasta!”  (This was especially true when the majority of my friends were still underage.) 

However, I trust Deb from Smitten Kitchen implicitly, so if she says that this pasta is good and that it may have played a part in her now-husband falling in love with her, I believe her. (Deb adapted it from a Rachael Ray recipe cleverly titled “You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta.”  Seriously, Rachael Ray?) 

As always, it turns out that trusting Deb was a good idea—this incarnation of penne à la vodka put all others I’ve tried to shame and finally, helped me understand why people love this dish.  (Although, I’m admittedly still confused how a person could be swept away by any of the mediocre versions I’ve had in restaurants.)


It was amazingly easy to make as well, which I guess is good if you’re going to use it to try to make someone fall for you as the title suggests.  After sauteing shallots and garlic in a combination of butter and olive oil, you add vodka to the pan.  Deb says that if you pour the vodka in a steady stream for about three turns around the pan, it should equal about one cup.  At which point I say to Deb (in my head, because unfortunately, she and I are not yet friends) “Whoa there Deb, that’s a dangerous game you’re playing, we wouldn’t want anyone getting drunk here.”  I then pour, in a mostly steady stream, for about four turns around the pan.  What can I say?


After reducing the vodka, you add chicken stock and a can of crushed tomatoes, letting all that simmer while the pasta cooks.  At the last minute, you swirl in some heavy cream.  (You don’t technically have to swirl it, but come on, it’s fun.) 

At this point, you chop up some basil to toss with the pasta.  (I almost had to leave this out because the first grocery store I went to didn’t have any basil.  But, after eating it, I would strongly assert that you should go to ten grocery stores to get basil if you have to – it totally makes the dish.)


Final note (you don’t have to read this if you’re bored): upon checking my sources before hitting the “publish” button, I realized that the three-turns-around-the-pan advice is from Rachael Ray, not Deb.  That being said, I’m going to pretend like I’m talking to Deb anyway, because I like her much better (one might say infinitely better) than Rachael Ray.

Final final note:  I did not cook this for a suitor, I made it with my friend Sally.  Her significant other liked it a lot though, and so I’m guessing that although it’s pretty silly, this recipe might actually live up to its name.  I’ll be testing this theory next time I cook for a gentleman caller. 

Penne à la Vodka (You Won’t Be Single for Long Vodka Cream Pasta)
adapted from Smitten Kitchen, where it was adapted from Rachael Ray
serves 4

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
Just over 1 cup vodka
1 cup chicken stock
1 can crushed tomatoes (32 ounces)
Coarse salt and pepper
16 ounces pasta, such as penne rigate
½ cup heavy cream
20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn

Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, butter, garlic, and shallots. Gently saute shallots for 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness. Add vodka to the pan, 3 turns around the pan in a steady stream will equal about 1 cup, but you should probably do 4 turns around the pan just to be safe . Reduce vodka by half, this will take 2 or 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and tomatoes. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Season generously with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente.

Stir cream into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Drain pasta. Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves.


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§ 4 Responses to Penne à la Vodka

  • Whoa. Why haven’t I thought about making vodka sauce? I’ve got some absolut in my fridge and I hate vodka-based drinks, so this might be the perfect way to use the stuff up. And though I already have a gentlemen caller, he has only been in the picture for three months and has yet to try more than oh, three, of my culinary creations. Although jewish girl cooking pasta for Italian boy doesn’t make much sense, if it tastes as good as this looks I just might surprise both him and myself. Thanks for the recipe!

    • tyla says:

      I would say it’s the perfect way to use up that vodka! I’m not a huge vodka drinker either, so I actually had to buy vodka to make this…

      You should most definitely make it for BT, almost “authentic” italian 🙂

  • Shady says:

    Hi! Just wanted to say I love your blog. Stumbled here last week b/c of a comment you left on a smitten kitchen recipe (I like when commenters review Deb’s recipes on their own food blogs) and when I saw that there were in fact multiple SK recipes here along w/ an appreciation of Deb’s awesomeness, I bookmarked you. I’ll def have on my ‘to cook’ list recipes reviewed by both you and Deb, starting w/ this one tonight. (Fangirling almost done) Also, belated congrats on your internship w/ Adam! (done.)

    • tyla says:

      Shady, I’m so glad you’re reading! Thanks so much for your beyond sweet comment, I get worried sometimes that people will say, “Why bother reading her blog? All she does is repeat Deb’s recipes.” But, I’m finding more and more that people just share my Smitten Kitchen love.

      Thanks for the congrats, too! It’s so exciting I still almost don’t believe it!

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