So what can you do with tomato, vodka and hot pepper besides make a Bloody Mary?? Pasta alla Vodka!!

Yesterday my cousin Linda wrote this on my wall in Facebook.

I am very happy to oblige! Linda, this one’s for you! Enjoy!
But before I present the recipe, a little historical note! The classic name for this recipe is “Penne alla Vodka”, which is not a traditional Italian recipe with hundreds of years of history, like the "Menesta maritata" I made several days ago. Instead, It is one of the recipes that represent Italy's answer to the Nouvelle Cuisine, a new trend in cooking that started in France in the early 1970s. "Penne alla Vodka" came into vogue during the 1970s. Rather than geographic, its origins might be termed as "social".
The 1970s were years of protest, turmoil and change in most of the western world. And while we are all familiar with the civil rights movement in the US and the student protests in the US and Europe that marked political and social change, we rarely think about how these changes also affected other aspects of our life-style. The theme of those years was a break with tradition, change, renewal... and this even affected trends in cooking. The new generation borrowed from tradition but the ingredients were more "modern".. as were the results!  “Penne alla Vodka” was was of these new entries. A modern twist on the more traditional Penne al pomodoro (Penne with tomato sauce)... a bit irreverent much like new generation of that period

Ok.. enough of my 2 cent sociology and on to the recipe!

1 small can plum tomatoes, pureed
1 T butter
1 onion
about 1 oz of pancetta
about 2 oz grated Parmesan
1/2 cup vodka
1/3 cup cream
hot pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1lb penne (I used ziti)

Put a large pot of water for the pasta on to boil.
Coarsely chop the onion
cut the pancetta (you can substitute with bacon or canadian bacon, I used speck)
break the hot peppers in half.

Melt the butter in a large fry pan. Add the onion, pancetta and hot pepper and sauté for 3 or 4 minutes over medium/high heat.  When the onion is translucent add the vodka and allow the alcohol to evaporate

Add about 1 cup of the pureed tomatoes  to the fry pan, salt and pepper to taste and allow it to cook over med/high heat, reducing it to a thick sauce (this will take about 5-8 min).

By now your water will be boiling, so salt the water and put the pasta in to cook (zitti or penne usually take about 10 min to cook)
While the pasta is cooking, add the cream (I used a low fat yogurt based cream, you can use light cream, fat-free half 'n half, etc) and the grated Parmesan cheese, stir in the cream and the cheese so that you have a well mixed creamy sauce.

Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary. You should really taste the hot pepper!!

By now the pasta should be cooked "al dente". Drain it well and add it to the sauce in the fry pan.  
Toss the pasta so that it is evenly coated with the delicious, spicy vodka sauce and...

as Julia Child would have said, had she spoken Italian



  1. I just saw your blog and I love you recipes. I wanted to know if you knew of some great restaurants in Tuscany, Siena and Florence. I too am a chef and I love cooking. I live in Los Angeles with my husband and two little girls. We will be coming to Lucca from July 1-10th this summer. We are would love to go to some specialty food stores, markets and any fun adventures.

    Best wishes,

    Yael Tenenbaum

  2. Hi Yael!
    thanks for writing! contact me by email at and I would be happy to give you some addresses in Lucca - there are several really great "pizzicherie" here

    we can also talk about Florence - given your beautiful name, I can't help but ask if you are jewish! did you know there is a kosher restaurant in florence that serves a kosher pranzo (lunch) every day, you MUST reserve. My son has eaten there.