Eric and I love pasta so much that we usually have it once a week. Out of all the recipes I have saved (which is a ridiculously high amount, by the way), pasta recipes appear the most. You’d think, with all those saved recipes, that I would be trying a new pasta dish each week. Sometimes that’s true, but lately I can only think about this pasta. It’s easily become my favorite, and I’m tempted to put it on the menu week after week.
It’s kind of funny how this recipe evolved. The changes started out pretty innocently and ended up turning this recipe into something different, and I think better, than the original. The addition of just a few ingredients really transformed this recipe. It started with me adding garlic. If something can be made with garlic, you can bet that I’ll put garlic in it. Eric and I love garlic so much that we use the full amount called for even when we halve recipes. The next time we made this, we had a can of crushed tomatoes that I thought would be really good in the sauce. I loved the addition of the tomatoes and continued using them. Then another time we had half of a yellow onion, and I couldn’t resist adding it. I love the smell of garlic and onion cooking in melted butter, and I’m not sure why I didn’t think to add the onion sooner.
This sauce is rich, creamy and full of tomato flavor. I like the added texture provided by the onion and tomatoes and actually think the sauce was a little boring without them. The basil provides a nice boost of freshness, which is nice with heavier sauces. While you can’t taste the vodka, I’ve read that vodka enhances the flavor of the tomatoes, making the flavor more intense than it would be without the alcohol. My favorite way to serve this is with crusty garlic bread, which happens to be the perfect vessel for eating leftover sauce. :)
Serves 4 to 6
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
medium yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup vodka
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons slivered fresh basil, plus additional for serving
1 pound penne pasta
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus additional for serving
Cook pasta in well salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water, drain pasta and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until fragrant, about a minute more. Stir in tomatoes and their juices. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the tomato paste and vodka. Cook until most of the alcohol has evaporated, at least 5 minutes. Stir in cream, red pepper flakes and salt. Bring to a a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cook sauce until thickened, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Stir in basil and cheese.
Add pasta to skillet and toss to coat, adding pasta water as needed to thin the sauce. Serve topped with additional basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Heavily adapted from Williams-Sonoma