Nick and Toni's Penne alla Vecchia Bettola

I came across this recipe while watching Barefoot Contessa and was instantly drawn to this dish because of the San Marzano tomatoes and the use of vodka in the dish! Yeah buddy, I said VODKA! We’ve had a bottle of Mr. Belvedere vodka sitting unused in our alcohol cabinent – sorry but we rarely drink it. Wine and beer are our top drink choices in our house. I recently planted San Marzano tomatoes in our little garden – they are costly tomatoes that are mostly used for cooking and an import from Italy. Most chefs would say it makes for the best sauce tomatoes in the world. I can’t wait for those suckers to harvest! Let’s cross our fingers and hope they are fruitful here in So.Cal! I finally found the San Marzano tomatoes on a visit to Wholesome Choice and picked up two Cento cans. $5 a can, they weren’t cheap, but the tomatoes make the sauce what it is – so I bought them. Make sure they are authentic and list “DOP” emblem. The recipe is pretty simple and straightforward, just make sure you have all the required ingredients – do not change a thing about this recipe – it is absolutely perfect. I paired the meal with a strawberry walnut mixed greens salad, and a couple loaves of garlic bread. Dinner is served!

Nick and Toni’s Penne alla Vecchia Bettola
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa
Ingredients: 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 Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper 3/4 pound penne pasta 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.

Review: AMAZING! For a last minute dinner party, this was the perfect meal! The sweet smell from the roasting sauce engulfed the kitchen, and the simplicity of the dish was perfect. We had plenty of servings for 6, with lots of leftovers. Everyone loved the creaminess of the sauce, and the heat from the spicy Italian sausages. We stuffed our faces until our stomachs were completely full, and luckily we worked off some of the calories from a couple games of bowling. Such a great dinner to be shared with good friends!

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