penne alla vodka and meatballs

When it comes to pasta sauces, I tend to prefer tomato-based sauces and Trevor always loves a creamy rich sauce, so this recipe is the perfect combo to satisfy both of us.  Also, I would be happy with just pasta and salad for dinner, but Trevor likes to make sure we eat some form of protein, so I added some meatballs that I had previously made and had in the freezer.  Making the pasta and sauce was actually a pretty quick weeknight meal, but it would have taken a little longer if I had made fresh meatballs as well.  OR if you're up for cooking in teams, One person could take care of the meatballs while the other one made the sauce.  

Our verdict?  Tasty, and definitely better than sauce out of a bottle.  We spent our honeymoon in Italy, and one of our favorite dishes in Rome was a pasta with tomato-cream sauce, peas and sausage...I think I may have to experiment with a variation on this recipe...

Penne alla Vodka

  • 1 pound penne
  • 1 (28oz.) can of whole tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 - 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup vodka
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tbsp fresh chopped basil
  • grated Parmesan cheese

Fill a large pot with salted water and put it on the stove and start bringing it up to a boil.  Pour the can of tomatoes into the food processor and pulse a few times to mince up the tomatoes.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

When the oil is heated add the shallots and tomato paste and cook until the shallot is softened and lightly golden.  Add the red pepper flakes and minced garlic and cook for about 30 seconds more.  Stir in 2 cups of the tomato mixture and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the vodka.

Add the penne to the boiling water just after adding the vodka.  The pasta should cook until it is slightly firmer than al-dente (about 8 minutes).  While the pasta is cooking return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture up to a simmer to cook off the alcohol.  When the alcohol is cooked off, stir in the cream and cook for about 1 more minute.

Reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta.  Put the pasta back into the cooking pot, then add the sauce to the pasta and toss together over medium heat.  Cook the pasta and sauce together for 3-4 minutes.  Add some of the reserved pasta water to get your desired consistency, if necessary.  Stir in the chopped basil, then serve immediately with Parmesan cheese on the side. 


  • 1 pound extra lean ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • about 2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs or 1/3 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 1/2 onion finely minced or grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped Italian parsley or basil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt & pepper

To make fresh bread crumbs: rip two slices of bread into large pieces (I like whole wheat bread) and pulse in food processor until you have coarse crumbs.

In a bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, parsley, cheese and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix in the egg.  Add the ground beef and mix together by hand until well mixed.  Shape into meatballs (whatever size you like, I usually aim for 1 1/2 inch diameter) and flatten the top and bottom slightly.

Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the required number of meatballs in a single layer, leaving some space between them to allow for heat circulation.  Cook for about 5 minutes each side.  The pan can be covered to help ensure even cooking.   

The extra meatballs can be frozen uncooked in a single layer in a freezer bag.

Penne recipe adapted from America's Test Kitchen: More Best Recipes and Epicurious - Penne alla Vodka