Penne alla vodka is a decadent pink vodka sauce, cooked low and slow with fresh oregano, sweet San Marzano tomatoes and a healthy amount of Parmigiano.
Inspired by Penne Alla Vechia Bettola
I am a HUGE Ina Garten fan and I mean HUGE. I LOVE her! She makes a lot of the same recipes I grew up on and I try to not miss any of her shoes.
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. I am telling you, run and make this penne alla vecchia bettola.
The Key to Making The Best Pink Sauce
This heavenly pink vodka sauce is not a quick 30 minute dinner, but instead cooks low and slow for at least an hour.
After sauteing onions, garlic and reducing a good amount of vodka, sweet San Marzano tomaotoes are added and then everything cooks in the oven low and slow for an hour.
The slow cooking reduces the plum tomatoes, condensing the flavor and making a luxurious rich sauce.
Once the sauce base is done, blend everything until smooth and stir in heavy cream and a good amount of freshly grated Parmigiano Regiano and fresh oregano.
How to Make Penne Alla Vodka
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 ¾ cup 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 ½ 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.
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?)
More great pasta recipes
Penne Alla Vodka (Vodka Pink Sauce Recipe)
- Olive oil for drizzling
- ½ onion chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic chopped
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 cup vodka
- 1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 pound penne or rigatoni pasta
- Few sprigs of fresh oregano plus more for garnish
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and 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 1-2 minutes.
- When onions cook down, carefully add vodka. Turn the heat up and allow vodka to reduce, while stirring with a spatula.
- Next, gently crush the whole San marzano tomato with your hands and add them to the pan with all its juices. Season with salt and pepper.
- Place oven-proof lid on and place the oven for 1 hour.
- While your sauce is cooking in the oven, get your pasta water boiling and cook your pasta.
- After an hour, remove tomato sauce from oven and blend sauce in blender or food processor. Pulse a few times until everything is blended.
- Place the blended mixture back in your used pan on very low heat. Stir in heavy cream, fresh oregano and freshly grated Parmigiano. Add cooked pasta to sauce and ½ cup of pasta water if it is too thick.
- To serve, spoon in bowl and top with more Parmigiano, fresh oregano and a drizzle of olive oil.
Dana Vanhove says
I've made this recipe several times, and always get rave reviews! DELISH!!!
Thank you so much Dana!
carol Mccarthy says
IF i double the recipe should I bake for longer than 1 hr
You just want to condense everything so I wouldn't go longer than 1 hour and 30min. If you're doing 2 seperate pans, then I would stick with the hour since there is less food to condense.
not sure if people have clarified this... but you seem to have 1/2C onion and then a little later, 1/2C onion. I wondered if this was some clever textural thing... but I suspect it is simply an over sight ie 1 C onion chopped for this recipe. BTW, it tastes delicious! I use Pecorino Cheese. Top with Parmesan cheese. It really is great!
I suspect that the vodka is helping with spice flavor absorption... since the alcohol will facilitate extraction. Otherwise, probably get a way with simmering a little longer or adding a little more.
Thanks for sharing!
Bob Doris says
Just to clarify the translation, "penne" in Italian means either "pens" or a type of pasta. In this case, the type of pasta. "La Vecchia Betolla" translates as an old (vecchia) sort of restaurant, something like "The Old Dive" or "The Old Joint" (an alternate meaning of "bettolla" is "barge"....hence the use of the word to describe what we might call a "greasy spoon" in English).
This dish is a mainstay of a great establishment in Florence, Italy, called "La Vecchia Betolla". It is defintiely NOT a greasy spoon, but a really great osteria (i.e. modest setting, and simple very tasty food). In keeping with the setting, the sauce preparation they use is more straightforward to make than the "Nick & Toni" version. Basically, the pepper flakes are sauteed for a couple of minutes in olio and then passata is added (no other ingredients; no baking in the oven), and the sauce is reduced on the stove top for about 2 hrs. Then the voldka, milk and cream, salt, parsley, and parmesan...all of this just a few minutes prior to serving on pasta just out of the pot. It produces a great result.
Hi Bob! Thank you so much for teaching me a bit more of the recipe and where it originates! It is certainly a gorgeous dish!
not sure adding vodka "just before" is such a good idea. The alcohol will help extract the essential flavors of the oregano and chili pepper. What do you think it will do when added at the very end? The 'flavor' from the vodka is not, in my opinion the key to the flavor profile, but might be worth discussion
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!
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 🙂
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!
Ahhh thank you for those great facts!
Erin @ The Spiffy Cookie says
That looks more than perfect.
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.
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!
Stephanie @ Eat. Drink. Love. says
Mmmm, this pasta looks delicious! And you are right, you gotta mix the sauce in completely with the pasta!
Christine's Pantry says