I don’t know a lot of history here except that tomatoey “vodka sauce” must be popular as you can now find it in jars at your local supermarket. Every brand seems to have a version of this so it must be good…right?
Well I think it is fantastic and if you think about it, it shouldn’t be. Where would Italians get vodka? Were there really Russian or Polish traders working their way along some old Roman highways peddling their spirit in exchange for…what…prosciutto? Parm? All good options and definitely worth the effort but I bet the history is a little less glamorous. Probably something like “invented in 1950s in Queens” or something like that. (I was depressed to know that the wonderfully simple and decadent dish and a personal favorite, linguine carbonara, may only go back to the 1940s and may not have had the idyllic history I thought it did).
I have made several versions of the dish over the years and liked most all of them but really feel like I have landed on one you could call the “every Tuesday night” version for my home and maybe yours.
Penne a la Vodka
28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes – drained
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 t sugar
1/4 t sea salt
1/2 t red wine vinegar
Pinch of dried oregano
3 T butter
2 oz pancetta, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 cup vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 t black pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
12-16 oz penne
2/3 cup parmigiana reggiano
Place tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt, vinegar and oregano in a blender and whiz it.
While pasta boiling, melt butter in Dutch oven and add pancetta, onion and pepper flakes until cooked through. Raise heat and add vodka and cook 3 minutes and then add heavy cream and black pepper and cook for another 2 minutes. Add tomato sauce and simmer briskly for 15 or so minutes. Add cooked pasta and parm.
If you think it needs something, it may need a splash more of red wine vinegar and of course salt and pepper to taste.