Pasta with Vodka SauceCourse: MainCuisine: Italian AmericanDifficulty: Easy
Growing up in New York, Penne a la Vodka was a staple at any event catered by an Italian restaurant (of which almost all were). Sports banquets, graduation parties, First Holy Communions…they all had that trusty aluminum pan filled to the brim with this creamy orange goodness. Lately, I’ve been seeing Vodka Sauce return to fancy restaurant menus, which delights me immensely.
In the same vein, Baked Ziti was in the weeknight meal rotation in the household of almost everyone I knew growing up. It’s an Italian American classic that is my ultimate comfort food.
This dish is a mouth watering mash up of these two iconic foods. Vodka Sauce has become so popular in my home that I generally double the recipe now whenever I make it, just so I can have a batch on hand to make this Baked Vodka Ziti.
Vodka Sauce isn’t particularly difficult to make, but I do make the following recommendations:
1. Buy the best tomato paste you can afford. I prefer an imported Italian tomato paste such as Mutti or Pomi, or one made from San Marzano tomatoes. They just tend to be made from of higher quality, sweeter tomatoes.
2. Take the time to caramelize the tomato paste. It really gives the sauce a depth of flavor that is unmatched.
3. Don’t skimp on the heavy cream and the sugar. This is an indulgent dish and deserves to be enjoyed fully. Any attempts to make it “healthier” will just make it lackluster. If you’re gonna go for it, go for it all the way!
1 can of tomato paste (4-5 oz. size), imported from Italy, if possible
12 oz. tomato purée
8 oz. heavy cream
2 oz. vodka
2 tsp sugar
1 small onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
10 oz. ziti (appx. 2/3 box)
1 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano Cheese
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
- Add olive oil and garlic to a 4 qt pot and place over medium heat. Once garlic begins to sizzle, add onion and a pinch of Kosher salt. Saute onion and garlic until softened, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Add tomato paste and turn heat to medium low. Cook tomato paste and onion mixture until slightly caramelized, at least 5 minutes, but ideally 15 minutes more, stirring every five minutes or so. Add vodka and stir to loosen up all the caramelized bits. Raise temperature to medium high heat to cook off the majority of the vodka. Reduce heat back to medium, add tomato purée, sugar, heavy cream and stir to combine. Simmer for about 5 more minutes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper and add red pepper flakes if desired.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Add appx. 2 tbsp salt to 3 qts water and bring to a boil. Cook ziti until al dente, then drain and add back to empty pot. Add sauce and mix thoroughly. Scatter 1/2 cup Parmesan over pasta and add ricotta cheese into the center to pot. Stir gently. You don’t want it to be homogeneous. You want visible streaks of ricotta cheese to remain. Pour pasta mixture into baking dish and top with remaining Parmesan and all the mozzarella. Bake on middle rack for about 25-30 minutes (check for doneness at appx. 20 min), until cheese is bubbly and starting to brown. If you like a bronze lid of crusty cheese (you know I do), place baked ziti under your oven broiler (on high) and DO NOT WALK AWAY. Cheese goes from golden to burnt very quickly, so keep an eye on it. It should only take a few minutes under the broiler to look like mine does in the photo. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes, then dig in!