July 12, 2021: Pasta Night: Penne alla Vodka
July 18th, 2021 by Max Koster

Welcome to, a website my sister Alex and I started more than five years ago to talk about cooking, food, and helping hungry people.  To read more about the charities we support, our adventures on Chopped Junior and the website, scroll down to About Kids Cook Dinner. To see what we’re cooking right now, just stay here.

Tonight I wanted to make Penne Alla Vodka, one of my favorite kinds of pasta.  This recipe is based on Colu Henry’s Pasta Alla Vodka available at I really like this recipe because it has pancetta in it.  You can leave it out if you want to, but I really like the taste.

The ingredients for the sauce are straightforward.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces diced pancetta (optional)
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves minced or 1 teaspoon pre-chopped, bottled garlic
  • One 28 ounce can of crushed or chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan, plus more for serving


For the pasta, you need one pound of penne pasta.  (Alex wanted to try a new low calorie, high protein pasta so I made a pot of that, as well as a pot of regular penne, so we could have a taste test.)


The first step is to saute the pancetta in the olive oil  until crispy brown and start a pot of water boiling (or if you are taste testing two kinds of pasta…obviously start two pots of water boiling.)


2. The second step is to add your chopped onions and garlic to the saucepan with the pancetta and cook until the onions are translucent, about five minutes.  Turn off the heat if using a gas stove, add the vodka, and then turn heat back on to low and cook till the liquid is reduced by half,


Stir in the tomatoes and swish about half a can of water in the tomato can to pick up the remaining tomatoes. Add no more than half of that liquid and simmer for 3-4 minutes.  Meanwhile, add your penne to the boiling water if you haven’t already.  Note, if you are using chopped tomatoes instead of crushed ones, your sauce will be a little chunky. Either break it up with your spatula or, if you really want a smooth sauce, puree the chopped tomatoes in a blender before adding.


Add the cream, stir, and cook for about a minute (and keep track of your pasta!)


Once the pasta is done, drain and return to the pot to keep warm.  Here are photos of the two types of pasta; they look almost identical but the “light” pasta is actually lighter in color.


Regular Pasta above


Light, Enhanced Protein Pasta above

When the vodka sauce is ready, set up your serving station and let your guests choose their penne and chow down.

20210606_191519   20210606_191513

I tried both types of penne and, while they were very similar, I preferred the regular pasta.



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