Updated: Dec 30, 2022
I'm a Southern Baptist, as Southern as they come and as Baptist as they come, but I love a good cocktail. This recipe will make any Baptist run to the liquor store to grab the secret ingredient. No worries for my teetotaler friends, the Vodka's alcohol all cooks off. Stand back as your pour it in. I've lost a few olfactory nerves over the years from the fumes.
The first time I ever heard of Vodka sauce I was on my first trip to New York City with an older friend of the family. She took me to a family-owned Italian restaurant just off of Lexington Avenue and told me I had to try the Vodka Sauce. I was hooked! Vodka sauce is an American Italian invention from the 1980's. The alcohol chemically breaks down the tomato and cream making it have an earthy sweetness that has to be tasted to believe.
My recipe is modified a bit from a restaurant in Florence, Italy and Chef Ina Garten. It is sure to please your family. The recipe has few ingredients, but it takes a good bit of time to cook in the oven and has a good many steps. Like any great sauce you can't rush it. Just give yourself some time to let the sauce start on the stove top, visit the oven for over an hour and return to the stove top for the big finish. Trust me! It is worth it. Serve with a dry crust of bread or mixed greens and a wonderful glass of red or even white wine.
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1 Yellow Onion, chopped
3-4 Cloves of Garlic, minced
1 cup Vodka, I use Absolut
1 1/2 tsp Dried Oregano
1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flake or to taste
2 tsp Sea Salt
2, 28 oz Cans of Plum Tomatoes, San Marzano preferred
3/4 lb Penne Pasta, I use Barilla
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, Grated, plus more for garnish
2 Tbs Fresh Oregano Chopped, plus more for garnish
Preheat Oven to 375 degrees
Make the sauce base
Select an oven proof skillet that has an oven safe lid.
In the skillet, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium heat.
Rough chop 1 yellow onion and 3-4 cloves of garlic.
Cook the onions and garlic together for about 5 minutes in the pan.
Once the onions are translucent sprinkle in 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and 1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and cook for about a minute more to incorporate the herbs. If you don't like spicy meals decrease the red pepper to taste. The red pepper is the key ingredient in making this pasta sing.
Meanwhile in a sieve crush the canned plum tomatoes with your hands and strain a good bit of the watery juice out of the tomatoes. This is very messy so wear an apron, and crush the tomatoes in the bottom of your sink.
Did I mention this is messy? It is so worth it, trust me!
Before you put the tomatoes into the pan, comes the fun part. Pour in your cup of vodka over medium heat. Allow the vodka to deglaze the pan a bit. Reduce the vodka until only about half of the liquid remains which will take about 5-7 minutes.
Season the onion, garlic and vodka mixture with 2 teaspoons of salt.
Now, it's time to put in your tomatoes. Gently pour the tomatoes into the pan and incorporate the tomato and onion mixture. Bring the sauce to a gentle boil and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Place the lid on the pan or cover in foil. Place the pan in the middle of your oven at 375 degrees for 90 minutes. Now, sit down and enjoy a bit of rest before you finish the sauce.
Once the sauce has finished in the oven, carefully return it to the stove top or you can do this part in the sink. Using an immersion blender, process the sauce to a medium smooth consistency. I like a few small chunks of tomato just not huge pieces. If you don't have an immersion blender place the sauce in batches into your blender or food processors. Make sure to be very careful as the sauce is very hot! Ouch!
Make the pasta
Meanwhile, measure out 3/4 pound of Penne Pasta. I use Barilla.
Grate 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese plus more to garnish each finished pasta dish.
Mince 2 tablespoons of fresh oregano plus about 2 more tablespoons for garnish. If it's summer you can grow your own. Oregano is a very forgiving and easy plant to grow but fresh oregano is also readily available in the grocery store.
Return your sauce to the stove top on low to medium heat. Then add the heavy cream, in 1/4 cup increments until the consistency is to your preference and adjust seasonings to taste. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of fresh oregano and cook over low to medium heat for 10 minutes.
Place the dry pasta into salted boiling water and cook 2 minutes less than the package recommends. This will keep the pasta al dente when added to the sauce and heated through.
Assemble the Dish
Drain the pasta and incorporate the cooked pasta into the sauce.
Sprinkle the pasta with parmesan and heat the dish though for about 2 minutes incorporating the pasta and cheese into the sauce. There you have it, Pasta with Vodka Sauce!
Plate up this amazing dish and let your family swoon. You can also add chicken or any meat to this dish. Enjoy!