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Penne with Vodka and Tomato Sauce: Pasta alla vodka

by Russell Norman from Brutto

Penne alla vodka is one of the most popular pasta recipes for a reason. The rich and creamy tomato sauce is other worldly - try it once using this authentic recipe from London-based restaurant BRUTTO and you'll return to it again and again.

Introduction

I first had this dish at the cult restaurant Alla Vecchia Bettola on a busy corner by a main road on the outskirts of Oltrarno in Florence. It’s one of those slightly kitsch recipes that was popular in the 1980s and which has been enjoying something of a revival in Italy and even now in New York. Despite the potentially gimmicky nature of the addition of vodka, it works exceptionally well and is a favourite at BRUTTO. Most supermarket penne is rigate – with ridges. If you can find penne lisce – smaller and without ridges – this makes a much more authentic version of this dish.

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Ingredients

2 × 400g tins of plum tomatoes
1 large onion, finely diced
extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
200ml vodka
320g dried penne lisce (or penne rigate if you can’t find the smooth variety)
4 tbsp double cream
2 tsp caster sugar
100g grated Parmesan

Method

Drain the tomatoes, reserving the juice for another purpose.

Place a large, ovenproof saucepan over a low to medium heat and gently sauté the onion in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with a pinch of salt for 12–15 minutes until glossy and translucent, being careful not to let the onion brown. Add the garlic, chilli flakes and oregano and combine, stirring for a few more minutes. Pour in the vodka, increase the heat a little to bring to a very gentle bubble, and cook until the liquid has reduced by a third. Preheat the oven to 140°C.

Now add the drained tomatoes to the saucepan with a good pinch of salt and continue to gently boil for just 1 or 2 minutes, until the oven is ready. Transfer the saucepan to the oven, uncovered, and bake for 30–40 minutes, until the sauce has reduced and has coloured a little on top.

Meanwhile, cook the penne in plenty of salted boiling water. Drain the pasta. Remove the tomatoes from the oven, and add the double cream, sugar and half the Parmesan. Using a stick blender, create a smooth sauce. Immediately add the cooked penne and stir until fully combined. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and serve in four warmed bowls, with the remaining Parmesan on the table.

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