Penne alla Vodka Because You Deserve It

I don’t really need to do much introduction for this recipe because it’s so good that it speaks for itself. It’s creamy, tomatoey, a little spicy, perfectly simple and very decadent. Just make it, please, ok? It’s honestly better than what you can get at a restaurant for $20 and making it yourself will cost a fraction of the price, and you’ll have so much more of it! Throw caution to the wind and eat 3 servings! It’s Friday! You’re alive!

Recipe is loosely based on Bon Appetit’s version.


1 cup tomato sauce (you can use the bottled stuff, but it’ll taste better if you make your own – recipe below)
1 pound penne pasta
1 cup 15% cooking cream
2 tbsp vodka
3 tbsp butter
Dried Chile Flakes
1/4 cup olive oil
5 leaves fresh basil, sliced into strips


  1. Boil a big potful of water with 3 tbsp salt in it and keep it simmering over medium heat. Throw a lid on it if you don’t want to turn your house into a steam room (#noACproblems).
  2. Heat up your olive oil in a large pan or saucepot on medium heat. Add your tomato sauce and let it bubble and sizzle until it starts to caramelize. Add a pinch of chile flakes, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper.
  3. When the sauce is deep red and has a few dark bits at the bottom, about 5 minutes, add the vodka. I have literally no idea why you need the vodka. You just do. Mix well.
  4. Add the cream and stir constantly for 20 seconds until fully incorporated. It will be smooth and creamy and bright orange. Turn off the heat, add more chile flakes if you want.
  5.  Boil your pasta until it’s just past al dente, roughly 10 minutes for penne. Don’t ignore the sauce while the pasta is boiling- just mix it around every once in a while.
  6. When the pasta is done, strain it and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.
  7. Turn the heat back on under the sauce, add the pasta water, and stir to combine. Cook over medium for 2 minutes. Add the butter to finish the sauce and mix until it’s melted and incorporated. The sauce will be just irresistible at this point, and that’s ok, because it’s pretty much time to eat!
  8. Mix the sauce with the pasta, making sure that every pool of sauce has been sopped up by the pasta. Serve with little strips of basil strewn artfully on top for added peppery herbiness but also to feel fancy.
  9. Eat!

To make your own tomato sauce:

2 cans whole stewed tomatoes (28oz or ~800g cans) 
5 medium cloves garlic (I learned from Gabrielle Hamilton that it’s important to actually observe the ingredients you have in front of you. This is to say that if you have MASSIVE garlic cloves that are very fresh and pungent, you can use a bit less. If you have sad, shrivelled, dried up garlic cloves, use more, or better yet, go get fresher ones!) 
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp crushed chili flakes (sometimes I’ll just use one whole dried chili. just use whatever you have on hand that’ll impart neutral-tasting heat. If you’re looking to make more of an arrabbiatta sauce, aka very spicy tomato sauce, then add twice the amount of dried chili) 
1 tbsp salt 
1 tsp freshly cracked pepper


  1. Open your tomato cans, peel and smash your garlic, and set aside.
  2. Pour the olive oil into a cold saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and let it warm up for a minute or two.
  3. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, and chili flakes to the oil and stir. Let it all sizzle in the oil for two minutes, just until the garlic cloves start to get a liiiitttle golden. We’re not looking for crispy cloves here.
  4. As soon as the cloves are slightly golden, add the two cans of tomatoes, liquid included, to the saucepan. Turn the heat up to high and let it all come to a boil.
  5. Once it’s boiling violently and splattering your whole stove (the glamorous side of cooking), turn it down to low and let it simmer for an hour, stirring whenever you remember to and making sure that nothing is sticking to the bottom. 

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