What's For Dinner: Penne alla Vodka

Back in my vegetarian days, I used to joke that I was really a "pastatarian" as I ate pasta for dinner more often than not. Eventually I realized that there were plenty of other delicious options for a vegetarian dinner (you know, with actual vegetables), and my pasta-eating habits fell to the wayside.

While these days we eat pasta now and then, it isn't in the main dinner rotation. So I decided to shake things up and made penne alla vodka for dinner the other night. It was a huge hit.

The vodka adds a bit of complexity to the flavor without overwhelming it (the key is cooking it down). Although the original recipe called for tomato puree, I used diced tomatoes, as I prefer a more rustic-style sauce. If you don't like a chunky sauce, I'd recommend blending the sauce (an immersion blender is my favorite tool for this) a bit before adding in the pasta. 

When served with a hunk of buttered Italian bread on the side and a glass of wine (I paired the pasta with this Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel from Sonoma County), you've got yourself a particularly fancy (but not fussy) weeknight meal.

Penne alla Vodka (printer-friendly version)
makes 2-3 servings

2 cups penne pasta
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, chopped finely
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup vodka
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with garlic and basil
1/4 cup organic heavy cream
1 pinch red pepper flakes
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
grated Parmesan, for garnish
chopped fresh basil, for garnish

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the penne according to the manufacturer's instructions. Drain and set aside.
2. While the pasta is cooking, add the butter and olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until softened and golden, about 5-7 minutes. Add in the garlic and saute until fragrant, 30-45 seconds.
3. Remove the pan from the heat (if cooking over a flame) and add the vodka. Return the skillet to the heat and cook until the vodka has reduced and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
4. Stir in the diced tomatoes and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the heavy cream. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the red pepper flakes. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Add the drained penne to the sauce and stir to combine.
6. Garnish each serving with freshly grated Parmesan and chopped fresh basil.

(adapted from this recipe from The Pioneer Woman)