Penne alla Vodka

Growing up in an Italian family, when I think comfort food I think of a big bowl of pasta. My Penne alla Vodka delivers just that.. its creamy, comforting, stick to your ribs good. So after a day of packing up my whole life, lugging it into a U-haul, and then moving it all into a storage unit on no sleep I wanted one thing and one thing only....Penne alla Vodka with a big glass of wine! 

You might call me crazy that after a day of moving, I couldn't wait to cook up a big meal instead of dialing pizza delivery. But I'm positive that once you try this recipe for yourself you will completely understand. 
I've been tinkering with this recipe for quite some time. About two years ago, my girlfriend Ella and I had the best bowl of penne alla vodka at this little Italian deli/restaurant in Palm Springs and ever since then I've been determined to perfect my own recipe so I could recreate that dish anytime the craving struck. And I did it!! 
You begin by sautéing some onions and garlic in butter and extra virgin olive oil. Next add two tablespoons of tomato paste. I think it gives the sauce an extra concentrated flavor of tomato, which is necessary to stand up against the cream and vodka you will be adding later. And because I like my pasta as spicy as I am ;) stir in a healthy dose of red pepper flakes.!
Now on to the star of the show...Vodka. The addition of vodka may or may not have something to do with why I find this meal so comforting hehe! Once the vodka has cooked for a couple of minutes and begun to reduce, add in a can of whole San Marzano tomatoes that you have mashed up yourself plus some Italian seasoning and salt and pepper.
So as of now you have a spiked little marinara sauce going, but you and I both know that's not what we're really looking for. Its time to add some heavy cream and start making this sauce extra sinful!
There's that dreamy, creamy pink sauce we were looking for!
Lower the heat and toss in cooked penne and grated parmesan cheese.
Stir in some chopped Italian parsley for a little pop of color and fresh flavor.
Just bring the whole pot of pasta onto the table so everyone can help themselves to a carb comfort-food coma. Serve with my Italian Mixed Salad and crunchy garlic cheese bread. Open a bottle of wine or better yet use up the leftover Vodka... And you've got yourselves all the ingredients for the perfect pasta party!
Why I think I've finally mastered my Penne alla Vodka recipe is that it has a depth of flavor beyond many of the other recipes out there that just create a bland tomato cream sauce. The tomato paste adds a concentrated tomato flavor that you just can't get from plain tomatoes. The Italian seasoning and the fresh Italian parsley elevates the dish to the next level. And the full teaspoon of red pepper cuts the cream and adds the perfect amount of zing. Plus I omitted the pancetta that is often used in penne alla vodka recipes to make it Vegetarian friendly, and you won't even miss it!
Pasta. Cream. Parmesan. Vodka. Do I even need to say more? This is a pasta dish I'm sure will end up in your comfort food repertoire!

Penne alla Vodka

1 lb penne pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
28oz can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (feel free to cut back or omit-its spicy!)
1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning 
3/4 cup Vodka 
1 cup heavy cream 
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped
salt and pepper 

Cook pasta according to package directions. 

Heat a large skillet over medium medium heat, add butter and oil. When butter has melted, add onions and garlic and saute for a couple of minutes until translucent. Add in tomato paste and red pepper flakes. Pour in Vodka and allow for the alcohol to cook off and reduce, a couple of minutes. 

In a separate bowl, use your hands to break apart the tomatoes into small pieces. Add tomatoes and their juice to the skillet. Crush Italian Seasoning in your palm to allow flavors to release and mix in to the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking for a few minutes until sauce is warmed through and flavors have developed. 

Reduce heat to low and stir in the heavy cream. Drain cooked pasta and add to the saucepan. Sprinkle with about 3/4 cup of parmesan cheese and Italian parsley. Mix well. Use remaining parmesan to garnish individual pasta bowls.