I wanted to hate this dish because, basically, I must be a food snob. That’s the only reason I could think of when I asked myself why I didn’t want to make this recipe. There’s the vodka thing (I don’t really like it) but that wasn’t the real reason. It had to be something else…
My first thought when I was asked to include a recipe for Penne alla Vodka for an article I was writing was a horrified, “OMG, that’s so 80’s!” I have memories of every LA “trattoria” in the late 80’s with this dish on the menu in one version or another (some with peas, some with smoked salmon). I had flashbacks to a time when I had big hair, baggy pants, and very red lipstick. I so very much did not want to do it that I only worked out the recipe and didn’t take photos, envisioning a gloppy pink sauced pasta.
But you know what? It was delicious. And subtle, when made with care. When done right, and not in a hurry by a hung-over underpaid line cook, this pasta tastes nothing of vodka, just a creamy tomato sauce with a pinch of heat. Yes, it’s pink. Yes, it has vodka. But the purpose of the vodka is to bring out the flavor in the tomatoes, much like wine does. Alcohol dissolves fats and releases their flavors and for this reason vodka in the sauce recipe enhances the tomato via the cream.
So no, there’s no photo to entice you to make the dish. But if you have fond memories of this dish, or just want to try something old school, I encourage you to give it a chance.
Let me know what you think. Were you a fan of Penne alla Vodka back in the day? Do you still order it when you see it on a menu?