My favorite Italian sauce is vodka sauce served over penne pasta. It’s simple yet has rich flavor and is the ultimate comfort food for me. I love cooking Italian food at home because the smell of onions and garlic sautéing is the best smell in the world! There are differing opinions of where vodka sauce originated, but many think it began in Bologna. My father’s grandparents came over from Italy and his mother was an incredible Italian cook. My Grandma Gloria’s family was from the Tuscany region near Florence. My Grandpa Tom’s family was from Sicily. My mom says she didn’t know food was good until she met my dad and ate at my Grandma Gloria and Grandpa Tom’s house. I never got to meet my Grandma Gloria and I often wonder if some of my love for cooking stems from her. I wish I could have cooked with her. My dad said she aways made homemade meals and everything was amazing. I am sure my Grandma had her own version of this sauce. Here is mine that I have tweaked over time. Give it a try!
Penne Alla Vodka
1/2 lb. Italian sausage, casings removed
2 (28 Oz.) cans whole tomatoes
2 Tbsp. Tomato Paste
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup vodka (good vodka like Absolut)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 lb. penne pasta
2 Tbsp. minced Basil for garnish
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Puree the tomatoes in a food processor or blender until smooth, about 20 seconds.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Add the sausage and cook until crumbly and brown. Add the onion and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is light golden brown around the edges, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and salt. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vodka. Return the pan to medium high heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the alcohol flavor is cooked off, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the cream and cook until hot, about 1 minute.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 Tbsp. salt and the pasta to the boiling water. Cook the noodles according to the package. Check the noodles often to make sure they are cooked Al Dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, drain the pasta, and return it to the pot. Thin the vodka sauce with the reserved pasta water as needed. Stir in 1/4 cup parmesan cheese to the sauce. To serve, scoop pasta into individual bowls and toss with sauce until the noodles are lightly coated. Then, add more sauce to the top of the pasta. Garnish with basil and parmesan and serve hot.