As promised, here’s the penne alla vodka recipe Scott made for my birthday dinner.

Vodka is not native to Italy, and Wikipedia has three different versions of the dish’s origin. The one with the most detail says that the dish was invented in New York. I don’t know if that’s correct but it sounds plausible. At any rate, it doesn’t really matter – authentic Italian or not, penne alla vodka is really good when made well.

Here’s our version:


2 cups roasted tomato sauce
1/4 pound pancetta, sliced thin
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup vodka
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh minced parsley

1 pound dry penne pasta


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then cook the penne until it is al dente. If you time it right, you should be able to start the water, then the sauce, and the pasta will be ready for the sauce at just the right time. If you’re not that confident about the timing, it’s better to have the sauce waiting for the pasta than vice versa. Overcooked pasta = epic fail (and not very tasty either).

Put the olive oil into a large skillet over medium flame. Dice the pancetta and add it to the skillet. Cook until dark and crispy (but not burned). Remove the pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon and place the pancetta on paper towels to drain. Add the garlic slices to the pan and sauté until they turn light golden brown.

Add the tomato sauce to the pan, stir to deglaze, and turn the heat to medium-high. Bring the tomato sauce to a low boil, then add the salt and red pepper flakes. Keep the low boil going for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down to low and add the vodka. Stir in the cream, pouring slowly, then keep on stirring as you slowly add the cheese. Tip: don’t add the cheese until the pasta is ready to go.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and put it into a large bowl. Pour the sauce over the pasta, sprinkle the parsley and the pancetta on top, and toss to mix it all together. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6, depending on whether you’re doing it as a main dish or an appetizer.


  • This is one of those recipes where the quality of the ingredients you put into it is absolutely critical. We tried this one night with some pre-cut shrink-wrapped pancetta and it was nowhere near as good as when we make it using freshly-sliced pancetta from a good deli counter. Get the good stuff. It matters.
  • The same goes for the Parmigian cheese. Don’t even think of using that stuff in the green can. Get the real thing.
  • If it’s winter or you don’t have roasted tomato sauce on hand, a 28 ounce can of tomatoes will do fine. Use whole tomatoes and quickly puree them in the blender, don’t buy the pureed ones. Again, quality is key. Use San Marzanos if you can get them. If not, Progresso is a good fallback.