Irresistible penne alla vodka, penne pasta in a creamy tomato vodka sauce with bacon/pancetta and garlic. This recipe is insanely delicious, comforting and so easy.
Penne alla vodka is a recipe that was very popular in Italy back in the 80’s. Apparently it was the ‘must have’ dish and everyone raved about it…for a while. The trend eventually died out, think of it like a shrimp/prawn cocktail, ok it’s extremely retro but you can’t help but love it because well, it’s dee-licious!
Although I rarely see this pasta dish on any restaurant menu here in Italy it’s still a favourite of mine. I absolutely love this recipe, it’s comforting, incredibly delicious and so easy, making it perfect for weeknights. The vodka adds such an unusual yet delicious flavour to the creamy tomato sauce along with smokey pancetta/bacon and garlic….what’s not to like?
I’ve only just found out that you can buy jarred tomato vodka sauce in supermarkets in the US – wow super popular! Since I’m not a fan of pre-made sauces of any kind, especially ones that take no time at all to make I’m posting my ultimate penne alla vodka recipe and I’m pretty confident you’ll be ditching the jarred stuff for this simple and easy homemade sauce instead.
Is Penna alla Vodka a traditional Italian dish?
Well no, it’s not. Vodka is not a traditional ingredient in Italian pasta sauces and cream is rarely used especially in tomato based sauces. It’s thought that penne all vodka was invented in the 80’s by a chef in Bologna who was trying to popularise and promote a vodka company.
It seems that no matter how trendy or popular a dish can be, tradition always prevails and new or ‘modern’ dishes can never beat the old faithful recipes.
As retro or untraditional penne alla vodka may be, it’s still damn delicious and I know many Italians that would have no problem devouring the dish.
How to make penne alla vodka
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Add the pancetta to a large pan and fry for a couple of minutes, just as it’s starting to brown add finely chopped garlic and shallot. Stir everything together so the garlic doesn’t burn then add the tomato passata, salt and pepper.
Stir the sauce then add one ladle of pasta water, let the sauce simmer for one minute then add the cream. Stir the cream into the tomato sauce with a pinch of salt and pepper then add the vodka. Let the sauce simmer for 3-4 minutes, if it starts to reduce too much add another ladle of pasta water to the sauce. Once the pasta is cooked, remove with a slotted spoon and add to the sauce.
Toss the pasta in the sauce until it’s evenly coated then serve.
Pro tip: Instead of draining your pasta remove it with a slotted spoon to the sauce. That way if you’re ever a little short on sauce you can add a spoonful of pasta water that will add flavour and help stretch your sauce a little further.
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For more easy pasta recipes try;
- Mafalde pasta with butter and parmesan
- Bucatini with roasted red pepper cream sauce
- Creamy butternut squash pasta
- Speck and mushroom pappardelle
Penne alla Vodka
- Bring a large pot of salted boiling water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to packet instruction until al dente.
- Add the olive oil to a large pan and add the pancetta, fry for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, finely chop the garlic and shallot. When the pancetta is starting to brown add the shallot and garlic and gently fry for a few seconds then add the passata.
- Stir the passata into the garlic and pancetta then add one ladle of pasta water, let it simmer for 1 minutes then add the cream with a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir in the cream then add the vodka.
- Let the sauce simmer for 3-4 minutes or until your pasta is ready. If the sauce reduces too much then add another ladle of pasta water.
- Once the pasta is cooked al dente remove it with a slotted spoon to the sauce, toss to combine and serve.
- I always use extra virgin olive oil in all of my recipes unless stated otherwise
- When I use canned or jarred tomatoes of any kind I always use this brand for the best results and flavour
- All vegetables are medium sized unless stated otherwise
- All recipes are tested and developed using a fan oven
- Find out more about how nutrition is calculated here
- Check out our must have Italian Pantry Staples here
- You can also find all our Essential Kitchen Tools for Italian Cooking here