Updated: Aug 26, 2021
Penne in vodka sauce (recipe link) was a college staple. It was cheap, comforting, and slightly more dignified than those all-in-one boxes of macaroni and cheese, or cups of dehydrated soup. Every supermarket had rows of that orange, shelf-stable sauce of indeterminant origin, and I thought it was delicious. I still do! But I haven't bought a jar of sauce from the grocery store since college, and I've since missed this dish. As it turns out, making your own vodka sauce is very easy and the start-to-finish process takes a little over ten minutes, making this a perfect lunchtime or weeknight meal. You likely have all of these ingredients in your kitchen already:
Most recipes use heavy cream, but I prefer using whole milk ricotta for a richer texture and a thicker sauce. Penne rigate is preferred, though you're welcome to swap for a pasta of your preference. Be sure to use the penne rigate (ridged) as opposed to penne lisce (smooth) for maximum sauce/pasta adherence.
.5 lb dried penne rigate (225g)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, finely diced
2 tablespoons butter (30g)
2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste (66g)
2 heaping tablespoons whole milk ricotta cheese (77g)
1 tablespoon grated parmigiano reggiano
3 oz vodka
pinch of dried red pepper flakes (optional)
chopped basil for garnish
1--- Bring a large pot of water to boil. When boiling, pour a healthy amount of salt into the water. Add the dried penne rigate to the water and let cook for roughly 9 minutes.
2---While the penne cooks, place a sauté pan over medium heat and add the butter. When the butter melts, add the shallot and garlic and cook in the butter for about 3-4 minutes. If using, add the chili flakes and stir the aromatics occasionally with a silicone spatula so as to make sure they do not burn.
3---Add the tomato paste and stir around the pan with the silicone spatula until it turns a rust/orange color, and begins to burn at the bottom of the pan (about 2 minutes). De-glaze the pan with the vodka, making sure to scrape up any burnt bits. Once the vodka has reduced by 2/3rds, turn off the heat. Add the ricotta cheese and stir to incorporate. The sauce should be a uniform, light-orange color. Ladle-in some pasta water (roughly ½ cup’s worth) and stir until you achieve your desired sauce texture.
4---Once the penne has finished cooking, use a spider strainer to transfer straight into the sauce pan. Stir and toss the pasta vigorously to coat evenly. While tossing, add about half of the parmigiano reggiano and continue to toss.
5---Serve onto a warm plate or bowl, and garnish with chopped basil and the rest of the shredded parmigiano reggiano.