Dinner,  Pasta,  Salads,  Sauces

Penne alla Vodka

I actually rarely eat pasta these days.  I never order it out as I only prefer my homemade sauce.  A pasta dinner follows the making of my sauce, a five-hour labor of love, tripling the recipe so that I have lots to freeze and give away.

Tonight I needed comfort.  The kind of comfort that takes me back home.  The weekly ritual of pasta on Sunday.  A childhood meal that recalls pleasurable, comforting memories.  It’s been a hot and busy summer and I haven’t had a weekend free to prepare my sauce.  In a pinch, though, I know I can pull off a quick marinara sauce and get my fix.  Penne alla Vodka is not a dish my mother made.  I have seen it on restaurant menus and on food tv shows.  Take marinara, add vodka, add cream.  Quick, easy, I needed that.  And, it was well worth it. 

One cup of pasta and I am satisfied.  I rounded it out with an antipasta salad to get some veggies in.  I just can’t have whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce.  It just wouldn’t seem right or taste right, though I will use whole wheat in pasta salads or veggie based dishes.

Penne alla Vodka

1/2 quart store-bought Marinara sauce (or make your own, recipe below)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional, if you like a kick)
1/2 cup vodka
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup parmesan
1/4 cup  fresh basil, chopped
1/2 pound penne

Simmer the marinara sauce, vodka and crushed red pepper, if using, in a large skillet over medium-low heat, stirring often, about 15 minutes.  Stir in the cream and parmesan cheese to heat, but not boil, about 5 minutes.

 As the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add in a generous pinch of salt.  Cook the penne until ala dente, tender but firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes.  Drain the pasta and pour into the skillet and toss to coat.  Add in fresh basil and top with additional parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately.  Makes about 4 cups.

Quick Marinara Sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small onion very finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 28 oz can San Marzano plum tomatoes – insert a knife in the can to carefully cut and break up the tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon sea salt or Kosher
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Lower the heat, and add the onion.  Cook until very tender.  Add the garlic and cook for just a minute to soften, but not brown the garlic.  Add in the can of tomatoes, dried basil, bay leaf, salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally for 25 to 30 minutes.   If the sauce tastes too acidic, add a touch of sugar, about 1 teaspoon.  Remove bay leaf.  For a smooth sauce, pour into a blender and blend till smooth.  Makes about 3 cups.

I made this quick antipasta salad to serve with the pasta.  Amounts vary depending on how many you are serving.  I simply chopped up the following; 1/2 peeled, seeded cucumber, red onion, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garbanzo beans, roasted or raw red peppers, kalamata olives and diced mozzerello.  Seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh parsley or basil.  Drizzle on a light vinagrette and allow to sit at room temperature to marry the flavors while prepping the meal.  For a main meal, I have added chunks of salame or pepperoni, pepperoncini is good also.


I love being in the kitchen. Early mornings, soft music, a hot espresso. Easing into the preparation of delicious meals. Glancing through cookbooks, gathering inspiration and planning my day. I look forward to the cycles of the seasons, the pleasures of tasting and savoring and sharing this with those dear to me. Weekends are special to me as my week days are often rushed, but still I create the ambiance, light the candles, set the table and uncork the wine.


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