Usually I only make any given recipe once or twice a year (or less) because I love trying new recipes, but this was my second time making Penne with Vodka Cream Sauce in the past month. The first time I tried it (using a combination of lots of recipes I found online), it tasted good, but was a little too mild so needed some tweaking. Tried it again tonight and the tweaks worked and the result is quite good! This pasta dish is a little spicy, a little creamy, and the vodka adds a little bit of something special. It's also very quick and easy to make and reheats pretty well. A winner in my book! If you were making it for someone you wanted to impress, you could increase the amount of cream and parmesan, but it's good as is, too.
Quick note: Be sure to use a decent quality vodka in the sauce. The first time I made this, I used a cheapo brand and it was rather lackluster, but the second time I used a higher quality brand and it definitely improved the flavor of the sauce. Also, whatever you do, be sure to simmer the sauce long enough to cook off the alcohol in the vodka, or you'll have some very strong tasting and slightly alcoholic pasta. You shouldn't really be able to taste the vodka in the finished dish, but the vodka does something magical to the tomatoes and enhances the flavors of the sauce. Here's an interesting thread I found on Chowhound with info about the purpose of vodka in vodka cream sauce.
Penne with Vodka Cream Sauce
1 lb penne pasta
1 T olive oil
1 c diced onion (or 1 1/2 t onion powder)
4 cloves minced garlic
1/4 to 1/2 t dried red pepper flakes
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
3/4 C decent quality vodka
2 t dried basil
1 t salt
1/2 C cream
1.5 oz (by weight) grated parmesan
Heat the oil over medium-high in a skillet and saute onion (if using) until almost tender, then add garlic and saute until golden. Add pepper flakes and saute another 30 seconds or so, then add in tomatoes, vodka, basil, salt, and onion powder (if you are not using diced onion). Reduce heat, cover with a splatter screen, and simmer 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. When there are about 10 minutes left, cook the penne in a large pot with 1 t salt added to the water. Drain and return to pot. Back to the sauce: Stir in cream, then pour over penne, stir to coat, and stir in the parmesan.
Yield: 6 main dish servings