Penne with Vodka and Spicy Tomato-Cream Sauce

serves 4-6

This recipe is from Patricia Wells’ Trattoria. It’s also known as Penne alla Bettola. I have made this 100s of times; it was one of my weekly rotations a few years back when we were not trying to eat (mostly) Keto. It is so quick, easy and delicious.


  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 plump fresh garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp crush red peppers (hot red pepper flakes), or to taste
  • Sea salt
  • 1 28-ounce can peeled Italian plum tomatoes in juice, or 1 28-ounce can crush tomatoes in purée – I use Contadina Crushed Tomatoes without any added seasoning
  • 1 pound dried Italian tubular pasta, such as penne
  • 2 TBL vodka
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, snipped with a scissors


  • In an unheated skillet large enough to hold the pasta later on, combine the oil, garlic, crushed red peppers , and a pinch of salt, stirring to coat with the oil
  • Cook over moderate heat just until the garlic turns golden but does not brown, 2 to 3 minutes
  • If using whole canned tomatoes, place a food mill over the skillet and purée the tomatoes directly int it. Crushed tomatoes can be added directly from the can.
  • Stir to blend, and simmer, uncovered until the sauce begins to thicken, about 15 minutes
  • Taste for seasoning
  • Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add 3 TBL sea salt and the penne, stirring to prevent the pasta from sticking.
  • Cook until tender but firm to the bite. Drain thoroughly.
  • Add the drained pasta to the skillet with the tomato sauce. Toss
  • Add the vodka, toss again, then add the cream and toss
  • Cover, reduce heat to low, and let rest for 1 to 2 minutes to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce
  • Add the parsley and toss again.
  • Transfer to warmed shallow soup bowls and serve immediately.
  • Traditionally, cheese is not served with this dish – however, I serve with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

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