Penne alla Vecchia Bettola


Even though I gave up drinking alcohol for Lent, I still seem to be going through bottles of wine and handles of vodka with abandon. Either my cat is a closet wino (possible), or I didn’t realize how much I love to cook with booze!

Seriously… whether it’s beer braised pork chops, boeuf bourguignon, braised shallots, or even risotto, I love using wine to infuse flavor into dishes the way water and stock never could.

As such, I like to think of this as penna alla vodka on steroids.

My boyfriend and I were watching Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa show on Food Network this weekend, and she and some darling-of-the-Hamptons chef made this crazy looking vodka sauce that actually baked in the oven for one and a half hours before you even thought about boiling the water for pasta. This ensures that the resulting tomato gravy/sauce/heaven is decadent and full of flavor, from top to bottom.

Even though this recipe takes a long time to make, it’s really not as hard as it sounds- the oven does most of the work for you.

Penne alla Vecchia Bettola

From Nick and Toni’s
Serves 6-8



  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled plum tomatoes (San Marzano are great here)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 pound penne pasta (I used whole wheat- worked perfectly)
  • 4 tablespoons fresh oregano
  • 3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
  • Grated Parmesan cheese



1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2) Heat the olive oil in a large oven proof saute pan over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook for 1 minute more. Add the vodka and continue cooking until the mixture is reduced by half.


3) Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes through a sieve and crush them into the pan with your hands. Add 2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and place it in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.


4) Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente. Drain and set aside.

5) Place the tomato mixture in a blender and puree in batches until the sauce is a smooth consistency. Return to the pan.


6) Reheat the sauce, add 2 tablespoons fresh oregano and enough heavy cream to make the sauce a creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and simmer for 10 minutes. Toss the pasta into the sauce and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Serve with an additional sprinkle of Parmesan and a sprinkle of fresh oregano on each plate.


This is one of those great dishes to make and save the leftovers for lunch- the sauce gets even better the next day!


What’s your favorite ingredient to cook with?

Happy Eating 🙂

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