I was watching an episode of Barefoot Contessa last week. Ina invited the chef from the Hamptons restaurant, Nick and Toni's to mak his version of Penne alla Vodka. "Boring", I thought to myself. I have always thought that Penne alla Vodka was one of the most overrated Italian pasta dish. To me, it always tastes like pasta with plain marinara, but watching Ina and Chef Joe Realmuto make this version, I was intrigued.
The sauce gets started on the the stovetop, but finishes in the oven for an hour and a half. By baking the sauce over a long period of time, the flavors get concentrated and sweet. When I say this dish is delicious, I am under-rating how complex and scrumptious it is. This dish is silky smooth, rich, creamy, a little spicy, with a slight charred flavor.
The recipe is supposed to be finished with fresh oregano. I didn't have any in the house, so I just left it out. To make up for any potential lack of flavor, during the step where you saute the onions, garlic and vodka, I added in a teaspoon of Italian seasoning (in addition to the crushed red pepper and dried oregano). Everyone at the dinner table had TWO servings of this dish. I am planning on making it for a dinner party we are having next month.
Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola
recipe courtesy of Ina Garten
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, diced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup vodka
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled plum tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound penne pasta
4 tablespoons fresh oregano
3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
Grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat the olive oil in a large oven proof saute pan over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook for 1 minute more. Add the vodka and continue cooking until the mixture is reduced by half.
Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes through a sieve and crush them into the pan with your hands. Add 2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and place it in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente. Drain and set aside.
Place the tomato mixture in a blender and puree in batches until the sauce is a smooth consistency. Return to the pan.
Reheat the sauce, add 2 tablespoons fresh oregano and enough heavy cream to make the sauce a creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and simmer for 10 minutes. Toss the pasta into the sauce and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Serve with an additional sprinkle of Parmesan and a sprinkle of fresh oregano on each plate.