Nick & Toni’s: Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola

I was trying to think of a cool-catchy title for this recipe, as I felt this amazing dish deserved it. The title translates to “Pens of the old tavern.” Can anyone help clarify this for me. So instead, let’s just bring it back to its roots and call it what it is…”Nick and Toni’s…”
I am a HUGE Ina Garten fan and I mean HUGE. I LOVE her! I never miss a show and one day I will meet her.
This time Ina had her favorite Italian restaurant, Nick & Toni’s as a guest on her show and  introduced the most mouth-watering dish you will ever lay taste buds on.
Nick & Toni’s Penne Alla Vechia Bettola is a combination of sweet San Marzano tomatoes, roasted in the oven and deglazed with…oh yeah..Vodka! .Blended until thick and smooth and laced with heavy cream is what makes this dish so luxurious and indulgent. Fresh, earthy oregano tops the sauce off to its perfect balance.
1) Start off in an oven proof pan. Olive oil, chopped onion, chopped garlic, dried oregano and red pepper flakes go in. Saute for a few minutes.
2) When onions are cooked down a little bit, let’s say, 3-4 minutes, add about 1 cup (or so…) of Vodka. I turn the heat up after adding the alcohol so the alcohol cooks off.
Cook for a few minutes until the alcohol reduces.
3) Now this is the messy part! I only use San Marzano tomatoes. They are super juicy and very sweet. Take the can of whole plum tomatoes and drain the liquid out. Don’t worry, the tomatoes are juicy enough! Crush the whole tomatoes with your hands and put them in the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
The juice will get everywhere! So do it slowly! I still find tomato juice somewhere on the kitchen walls after I make this pink sauce…but it is so worth it!
And don’t worry about how much you crush the tomatoes, you’re going to blend it up later anyway.
4) Then place oven-proof lid, and put in the oven for 1hr at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
5) While your sauce is cooking in the oven, get your pasta water boiling and cook your pasta. I like to have the pasta ready at about the same time I’m blending the sauce. Also, I used rigatoni instead of penne here. The rigatoni is huskier and can handle such a substantial sauce. I really thought it just worked out better.
6) After an hour  the tomato mixture comes out caramelized and condensed. Let cool for a few minutes before blending it up.
7) Ladle all this tomato garlicky goodness in the blender and blend until thick smooth.
8) Place the blended mixture back in your used pan on very low heat. Stir in about 3/4cup  of heavy cream, fresh oregano,  and grated Parmesan. I always find the sauce to be a little thick for me. So if you have starchy water already, take about 1/2 cup and stir into the sauce, or just rinse the bottom of blender with all the extra blended yummy-ness and put that in too. It will still be thick, don’t worry!
9) So once your pasta is all done cooking, another tip I like to mention, is to use a slotted spoon and ladle the pasta directly from the hot water to your sauce pan. That way you get some of that thick starchy water in your sauce too. Mix the pasta and the sauce together in the pan.
One of the biggest pet-peeves I have is when I see restaurants or whoever, just ladle their sauce ON-TOP of their pasta! No-No NO!! The pasta gets sticky! The sauce doesn’t have a chance to touch any of the other noodles…it’s a culinary disaster!
Always mix your pasta with your sauce! Even if you strain the pasta, put it back in the sauce pan and stir it together. You will notice a huge difference!
10) At this point I add a little more Parmesan and top with more fresh oregano and drizzle of olive oil (doesn’t hurt, right?)
Thank you Nick and Toni and Ina for showcasing such an extravagant masterpiece!
Nick & Toni’s: Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola


  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tb dried oregano
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 pound penne or rigatoni pasta
  • Few sprigs of fresh oregano
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Heat a pan over medium heat and drizzle with olive oil. Add chopped onions, dried oregano and red pepper. Cook until onions caramelize, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 3 minutes.
  2. When onions cook down, add vodka. Be careful! Turn the hear up and allow vodka to reduce, while stirring with a spatula.
  3. Take the can of whole plum tomatoes and drain the liquid out. Crush the whole tomatoes with your hands and put them in the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Place oven-proof lid on top and put in the oven for 1hr at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. While your sauce is cooking in the oven, get your pasta water boiling and cook your pasta.
  6. After an hour, remove tomato sauce from oven and blend sauce in blender or food processor. Pulse a few times until everything is blended.
  7. Place the blended mixture back in your used pan on very low heat. Stir in about heavy cream, fresh oregano and freshly grated Parmesan. Add cooked pasta to sauce and add 1/2c of pasta water if it is too thick.
  8. To serve, spoon in bowl and top with more Parmesan, fresh oregano and a drizzle of olive oil.


  1. Stephanie @ Eat. Drink. Love. says

    Mmmm, this pasta looks delicious! And you are right, you gotta mix the sauce in completely with the pasta!

  2. says

    I love blush sauces like this! I saw this episode too and really wanted to try the recipe. I'm definitely gonna have to now!

  3. dinnerordessert says

    I always order this sauce at Italian restaurants but never make it myself! It looks great, I'm going to have to try this recipe.

  4. Scott says

    Pens, because the shape of the pasta is somewhat like the tip of a quill pen. And La Vecchia Bettola is the restaurant where they learned this recipe, or the restaurant where it was invented, or something along those lines.

    Also, mmmmm. Looks amazing. My wife’s favorite dish. I should try this recipe!

  5. Mollie says

    Hey, I was wondering if it was intentional to only use one can of tomatoes (28oz), the Ina recipe on the food network site says 2 (28 oz) cans. Mine was a lot lighter than your picture, (still tasted AMAZING) but I was wondering if that was an error. I didn’t have another can to add even after I saw it and it was also too late (after oven time). Thanks!

    • SamanthaSamantha says

      Oh interesting…I believe I only add 1 large can of whole tomatoes, sometimes I use diced tomatoes if that’s what I have on hand. I’ll try 2 next time…sorry about the confusion :)

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