Every once in a while Dana and I go out for dinner.  When we do, I always see Dana ordering Penne alla Vodka.  So I figured I should tackle this recipe.  I wanted to make the sauce from scratch and have that great vodka flavor. Although the alcohol burns off, not all of the flavor does.  I had to experiment with the amount of vodka to get the right amount of flavor.

Penne alla Vodka – (adapted from Epicurious)

  • One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes with their liquid
  • 1 pound penne
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • Crushed hot red pepper
  • 3/4 cup vodka
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil for finishing the sauce, if you like
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for passing if you like
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat.

Stir the penne into the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until done, 8 to 10 minutes.

Pour the tomatoes into a large bowl and then crush them with your hands, a chopper or whatever you have lying around.


I used a pastry blender that I had lying around. To get a more uniform chop, I would recommend using a food processor for this.  Pour in the tomatoes and using quick on/off pulses, process the tomatoes just until they are finely chopped. Make sure not to over-process the tomatoes.

Chopped tomatoes

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and 1tbs butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whack the garlic cloves with the side of a knife and add them to the hot oil. Also add the diced pancetta.  Cook, shaking the skillet, until the garlic and pancetta are lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

Saute the garlic and pancetta

Lower the bowl with the tomatoes close to the skillet and carefully slide the tomatoes into the pan. This can be dangerous as the tomatoes can make the hot oil splatter.  Watch out!

Carefully add the tomatoes

Bring to a boil, season lightly with salt and generously with crushed red pepper, and boil 2 minutes. Pour in the vodka, lower the heat so the sauce is at a lively simmer, and simmer until the pasta is ready and the sauce has reduced.

Just before the pasta is done, fish the garlic cloves out of the sauce and pour in the cream and add the 2 tablespoons butter.  Swirl the skillet to incorporate into the sauce.

add the butter and cream

Add the pasta to the pan and bring the sauce and pasta to a boil, stirring to coat the pasta with sauce. Check the seasoning, adding salt and red pepper if necessary. Sprinkle the parsley over the pasta and boil until the sauce is reduced enough to cling to the pasta.

Stir the pasta and parsley

Remove the pot from the heat, sprinkle 3/4 cup of the cheese over the pasta, and toss to mix. Serve immediately.

Add the cheese

This was awesome!

Penne Alla Vodka

Dana and I loved the flavor and the addition of the pancetta was amazing.  It took this ordinary dish and made it extraordinary.

Rex is an avid griller, barbecuer and bacon enthusiast. He is the Pitmaster for the Rex BBQ competition team. Rex was also featured on the TV show American Grilled. If you have any questions or wish to have Rex decode your favorite dish, click on the ASK REX link in the menu above.


  1. Can’t waite to try, found you by looking up limonata.Thank you.

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