I love pasta. When I was growing up in India, we didn’t have many restaurants that served Italian food. My knowledge of pasta went as far as macaroni. I used to love watching cooking shows on TV even then, and that is where I learnt that there is more to pasta than just macaroni and cheese.
Over the years, I have made pasta with a lot of different sauces but never found the perfect recipe for Vodka Sauce. There was either too much tomato or too much cream or it was just plain bland.
One afternoon, I was watching Ina Garten on TV and she had the guest chef from Nick and Toni’s on her show making Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola. It looked amazing. The sauce was made with San Marzano tomatoes that had been cooked for an hour and a half in the oven with onions, garlic, fresh oregano and vodka. I just had to try it.
I made it a couple of times and changed a few of the ingredients around. While cooking the sauce in the oven, I added a couple stems of fresh oregano leaves and some rind left over after grating a piece of parmesan cheese. It adds an amazing flavor to the sauce. I also use sugar to cut the sour flavor of the tomatoes but if you like the sourness you can avoid the sugar or add very little. I have used lactose-free half and half (I am lactose intolerant) instead of heavy cream. It helps to keep the sauce light so I can eat more of it. But if you like heavy cream feel free to use it. I also added herbs de Provence. It is a mixture of savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender and other herbs. It infuses the sauce with an amazing herb flavor.
I made some to take over to my friend Clara’s house for dinner tonight and her little two-year old ate up a whole bowl saying “nummyyyyy,nummyyyy”. Don’t think I need to say more!
Here is how I make it.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 3 tablespoons garlic, chopped
- 1 ½ teaspoons chili flakes
- 1 ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 cup vodka
- 2 (28 ounce) cans, San Marzano tomatoes
- 6 teaspoons sugar
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons pepper
- 1 inch piece Parmesan rind (optional)
- 1 ½ cup half and half
- 2 stems plus 3 tablespoons of fresh oregano leaves
- 2 teaspoons herbs de Provence
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 pound penne pasta
- Pre heat oven to 375*F.
- Meanwhile, heat extra virgin olive oil in an oven proof pan over medium heat.
- Add onions and garlic. Saute with a pinch of salt until translucent but not brown.
- Add chili flakes, dried oregano and only ½ teaspoon of pepper. Sauté for one more minute.
- Add the vodka and let it cook over medium heat till the liquid is reduced by half. This should take 4-5 minutes.
- Add tomatoes and use your hands or a potato masher to break up the tomatoes.
- Add salt, remaining pepper, sugar, parmesan rind and 2 stems of fresh oregano. Mix well.
- Cover pot and transfer to oven. Cook for 1 hour and 45 minutes.
- Remove pan from oven and allow it to cool for 15 minutes.
- Transfer the cooled mixture to a blender and puree till sauce is smooth. You can do this in batches.
- Bring the sauce back to a simmer over medium heat.
- Add half and half, only 2 tablespoons of fresh oregano leaves and herbs de Provence.
- Stir well. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes on low heat.
- Meanwhile, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. When the water comes to a boil, add 2 heaping tablespoons of salt, stir and then add the pasta.
- Cook (as per package instructions) until an dante – pasta is cooked, but not completely. If the package says cook for 15 minutes, cook it for 12 minutes. Pasta will cook completely in the sauce. This will prevent the pasta from getting mushy.
- Drain pasta. Never rinse the pasta after its drained. The pasta will become cold and the starch that helps to thicken the sauce will get washed away.
- Transfer pasta to a bowl. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and stir.
- Pour the hot vodka sauce over the pasta and mix till pasta is completely coated.
- Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese, pepper and remaining oregano leaves and serve immediately.
- Sprinkling cheese over hot pasta allows the cheese to stick to the pasta and then the sauce sticks to the cheese.