The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? Myth or not, I am always happy to make meals that my husband loves and enjoys. Penne alla vodka is no exception. Personally it never appealed to me, but apparently my husband loves it and I didn’t even know it.
A few years ago my husband and I were in Rome. I noticed that with every opportunity he had, for lunch and dinner, he would order the penne alla vodka. I found this a bit strange because after all we were in Italy, the land of pizza, pasta, and antipasto! Why would you subject yourself to just penne alla vodka? When I finally questioned him about it, his response was, ’I love penne alla vodka…it’s my favorite pasta dish.’ After 10 years of being married to him, how did I not know this about him???
As soon as we returned back home I started researching recipes for penne alla vodka. I must say I found THE PERFECT one, the Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola from the famous East Hampton restaurant, Nick & Toni’s. It’s a premium twist to the standard penne alla vodka. It is creamy and velvety, but what makes this recipe exceptionally savory and flavorful is the cooking method used for the tomatoes. The tomatoes are first cooked with 1 full cup of vodka (the vodka helps release certain flavors in the tomatoes that are otherwise inaccessible) and then it’s oven-roasted (this concentrates the flavors and releases the natural sugars in the tomatoes, resulting in a deep rich flavor).
If you’re a penne alla vodka fan (or not) you’ve got to try this recipe. It’s amazingly packed with flavor and simply one of the best pasta dishes, if not THE best, I’ve ever had.
Recipe is adapted (with slight changes) from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof cookbook. She notes that the Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola which originates from Florence, Italy has been served at the famous East Hampton restaurant, Nick & Toni’s, for over 20 years. Chef Joe Realmuto was kind enough to share the recipe with her, and I’m really glad she passed on the favor to all of us.
Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola
This is not your ordinary penne alla vodka recipe. The tomatoes are cooked with vodka and then oven-roasted that packs intense flavor to the sauce.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 cup vodka
- 4 (14-oz / 400g) cans whole peeled plum tomatoes, drained
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 pound (340g) penne pasta
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus extra for serving
- 1 cup heavy cream (slagroom)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
- Step 1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees celsius)
- Step 2 In a large (12-inch) oven proof saute pan heat the oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook for 1 more minute.
- Step 3 Add vodka and simmer until the mixture is reduced by half, about 7 minutes.
- Step 4 Meanwhile drain the tomatoes in a sieve. Put an apron on and with clean hands crush each tomato into the pan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.
- Step 5 Cover the pan wth a tight-fitting lid and place in the oven for 1 hour.
- Step 6 About 20 minutes before the tomatoes are done in the oven, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (use about 2 tablespoons of salt). Cook the penne until al dente, drain and set aside.
- Step 7 Once the tomatoes are done roasting, take out of the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes. At this point all the liquid will have been reduced.
- Step 8 Place the tomato mixture in a blender or food processor and purée in batches until smooth. Return the sauce into the pan.
- Step 9 Reheat the sauce and add in 1-2 tablespons of freshly chopped parsley. Add in the cream but start with 1/4 cup and work your way until you’ve reached your desired creamy consistency. Simmer with lid uncovered for about 7 minutes.
- Step 10 Add in the penne pasta and cheese to the sauce and combine well.
- Step 11 Serve hot sprinkled with extra Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley (if desired).