April 18, 2016

Nick and Toni’s Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola

Like probably many of you, I don’t eat a ton of pasta so when I do I make sure that it is really, really fabulous. One of my all-time favorite pasta dishes comes from Ina Garten’s cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa’s Foolprooof. It’s a mainstay on the menu at one of Ina’s favorite restaurants for over 20 years and has a unique cooking method that is so simple, you’ll be shocked. The recipe calls for sweating onions and garlic, reducing vodka, adding canned San Marzano tomatoes, and baking the mixture in a covered pan for one-and-a-half hours. Simple enough, right? If you’re a penne alla vodka fan, this one’s for you.

Like I said above, the base of the sauce spends an hour and a half in the oven and during this time liquids reduce and flavors concentrate, and the resulting sweet yet spicy mixture that needs a few large splashes of cream and a handful of cheese to balance it out. Adding the full cup of cream makes for an incredibly delicious sauce, but it can hold its own with much less. I recommend anything from 1/4 to 1 cup of cream. This recipe is a little fussier than most of its kind, but the hands-on time is minimal, and the lengthy cooking time really transforms the canned tomatoes. And while a cup of cream seems excessive at first glance, the recipe yields a fair amount of sauce — at least five cups.

If you’re going to indulge in a big bowl of pasta I think it should be amazingly fabulous, and this recipe certainly is. Oh yeah, don’t forget extra parmesan for topping and some oven toasted garlic bread. Go big or go home… right?












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
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound penne pasta
4 tablespoons fresh oregano
3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
Grated Parmesan cheese



1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente. Drain and set aside.
5. Place the tomato mixture in a blender and puree in batches until the sauce is a smooth consistency. Return to the pan.
6. 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.
2009, Joseph Realmuto, All Rights Reserved

  1. David K.

    January 9th, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    We eat lots of pasta – summer and winter. And our BMI, cholesterol, etc, are fine. All things in moderation Sweet Hostess. Just had squid in a simple sauce of stewed tomatoes, garlic and rosemary over linguini. Long cooked at low heat and the kitchen smelled amazing. Go big or go home indeed. Press on!

  2. Molly Shapiro

    January 10th, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Thanks David! I agree with you!

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