the-abhorred-and-the-adored Recipes

penne à la vodka + belgian brownies

I have no doubt I’m opening a can of worms here, but I really don’t see the point of the classic foodie hobby, Rachael Ray Bashing. Sure, her voice is unnecessarily loud, and it makes you wonder why her supposedly caring producers wouldn’t tell her to cut back on all the yelling; of course, the (trademarked) EVOO is hideously annoying; and yeah, that FHM photo shoot was, at best, a cry for attention, but in the kitchen? The 30-minute meals? How did these become the enemy?

Yes, her knife skills are lacking, but guess what? So are mine. Yes, she relies a bit on pre-processed ingredients, but I’ve got no beef with canned tomatoes, beans and frozen peas when you are short on time. Yes, she lacks finesse but hello! I’m a big as a dork as anyone, and yet you are still here. To be honest, I often parallel her cooking to Oprah’s Book Club. (At the rate she’s earning, she’ll be as loaded as Oprah in a couple years, which is what I suspect is actually what irks people.) For the most part, the books aren’t to my taste but I won’t begrudge a woman who got thousands of Americans back into reading. In the realm of food, I can think of more worthy nightmares to dump on (ahem).

This kind of brings me to the only recipe of hers I have ever cooked: penne a la vodka. What drew me in? Well, to be honest, everything her packagers promised: It looked easy. I had the stuff on hand. It didn’t take long to make. And best yet, it had a showiness to it that readied it for prime time, or in this case, an early date with my now-husband, and the first time I had ever cooked for him.

le pain quotidien belgian brownies

People, this is a good recipe, and a gentle reminder that not all spectacular home cooked meals need to warrant hours at the stove. Yesterday was our first wedding anniversary, and caught up in swoonful nostalgia, I cooked it again, throwing in some Belgian brownies we’ve been ogling on the Wednesday Chef for some time now, for desert. It was a fantastic dinner, and these recipes are keepers.

Oh, one more little thing. The pasta dish has one of those really cringe-worthy names her hate club likes to slam her for (and it’s embarrassing for me, too, to admit that I allowed it into my kitchen): You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta. But the even scarier part is that I wasn’t.

wedding

You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta
From Rachael Ray

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, once around the pan in a slow stream
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 cup vodka
1 cup chicken stock
1 can crushed tomatoes (32 ounces)
Coarse salt and pepper
16 ounces pasta, such as penne rigate
1/2 cup heavy cream
20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn

Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, butter, garlic, and shallots. Gently saute shallots for 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness. Add vodka to the pan, 3 turns around the pan in a steady stream will equal about 1 cup. Reduce vodka by half, this will take 2 or 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until cooked to al dente (with a bite to it). While pasta cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.

Stir cream into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Drain pasta. Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves.

Belgian Brownies
Adapted from Le Pain Quotidien via The Wednesday Chef

Makes 14 brownies

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60 – 64% cacao)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
5 eggs, beaten lightly with a fork
1 1/3 cups superfine sugar
3 tablespoons pastry flour

1. Roughly chop the chocolate into pieces. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl and add the butter. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, until the two ingredients have melted. Mix well and transfer to a large bowl; set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Sift the sugar and flour together, then stir into the chocolate. Add the eggs and mix well. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. The batter will thicken as it stands.

3. Line a muffin tin with cupcake papers. Spoon one-fourth cup batter into each paper-lined cup. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. The brownies will still be moist when done; they will puff up and fall slightly as they cool.

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112 comments on penne à la vodka + belgian brownies

  1. I am *so* anti-RR. My sister adores her, to the point of even having a matching garbage bowl. Very disturbing. This pasta does look good, though. It might be the first thing of hers I’ve ever considered making. As for the brownies, well, they’re chocolate and that’s good enough for me. I’ll be on the lookout for pastry flour.

  2. I have no problem with RR.

    When you work and have a family and don’t want to eat out every night – she fits the bill.

    Pasta looks fantastic. And wedding picture was beautiful, too, by the way.

  3. What a wonderful entry to read; you had me at Vodka Penne! I agree with you that Rachel Ray bashing has gone somewhat overboard among us foodies. There is nothing wrong with a woman who encourages thousands (millions?) of Americans to get in the kitchen and cook their families dinner. Not everyone needs to be a gourmand.

    I can’t wait to try this penne, and I’ve been meaning to try Luisa’s Belgian Brownies for so long… I’ve read so much about them lately.

    Cheers,

    Jessica

  4. Hilary – I think it was more like days for me, but then again, maybe it’s a misnomer? I mean, why would you cook for someone you weren’t already pretty much together with? I would take the desire to cook for someone a very good sign, however.

    elle – I agree. She is annoying. But, I don’t think she’s the end of cooking as we know it. I think it’s good when people make cooking look less intimidating, as long as they do so without “just adding water” to a chemistry-set-in-a-box.

    Jennifer – Truthfully, I’m sure there are a ton of other good penne a la vodka recipes, great ones, I just tried this one first. You don’t have to tell anyone it’s her recipe, not to mention, she didn’t invent this combination of ingredients, or the techniques. (Just read this and this, so thought I’d bring them up while they’re fresh in my mind!) But, it sure was easy. I found the pastry flour at Whole Foods.

    Abby – Thank you!

    Jessica – Just don’t underbake them, like I did quite a bit. I thought tester was clean at 30 but they’re practically mush inside, not that anyone’s complained! We actually froze a few, which has made the whole thing seem intentional.

  5. I thought i was the only person that noticed she was yelling a lot. (and how she is starting to get somewhat annoying.)

    and while im on it..

    I dont think i spend $40’s a day eating out when im on vacation.

    Shrugs.

  6. RR does not annoy me, in fact, I will defend her all day long
    I grew up with her as a TV personality (she got started Upstate on the local station I grew up watching)
    she has gotten a little more annoying, but, that’s her thing man, and yes, I agree completely with you that the thing that annoys most people about her is her wealth and that she’s a “celebrity chef” something Michael Ruhlman talked about over on Megnut a few weeks back
    she cooks, but has never had a restuarant, therefore much like Cat Cora, she’s someone that can’t be taken seriously (N.B. Cat posed nearly nude too, I saw the piccie on Forbes recently)
    Dandy Sandy is far more despicible than RR… there’s a monthly Sandra Lee Loathing recipe event at FoodieNYC that’s awesome and everyone should join
    *rant over*

  7. Cupcakes – I cannot watch that $40 show. What a sham! (Also, the one time I did, she was in the kitchen of Tabla’s Bread Bar, only my favorite restaurant in NYC, and was overwhelmed with jealousy.) Again, her personality is incredibly grating… it’s the 30-minute meals that ought to be forgiven.

    ann – Now Sandra Lee actually embodies everything that scares me about this “return to home-cooked foods” or whatever the hell we’re on. The Kwanzaa Cake might have been the most offensive thing I have ever seen (CORN NUTS?!) , and I am enraged by this idea that it’s easier to open up a bunch of packages and aritficial ingredients rather than do the chopping, seasoning, sauteeing yourself (a la Ms. Ray, or any of the rest of us). Then again, I guess it allows her more free time for her elaborate table decorations, which is, you know, what cooking is all about. [Deep breaths.] That is all.

  8. I don’t have cable so RR’s grating personality has only been inflicted on me during morning shows like Today, but I made this penne too, and loved it. Deb’s right – hate the playa, not the, uh, 30-minute meals.

  9. I loved this post… and while I am thoroughly chafed by Ms. Ray, I am devoted to her style of cooking. In fact, I was for years before I ever knew of her. While I do consider myself a foodie, her style of fresh, quick and simple foods are what are realistic for most of us. I cook mostly on the stovetop, as opposed to in the oven, as she does. And I don’t like to bake. And while I will open canned chicken stock, I consider the food that I make to be much healthier and better than those busy folks who would choose the drive-through.

    I completely agree with you and Deb (who commented), in that I feel the type of food Sandra Lee makes is unacceptable in serving to one’s family. The focus is simply to make something that “looks good,” and gives the appearance of effort. Feeding your family chemical and preservative-ridden crap that has been glossed over to look homemade strikes me as… I dunno… cookery for glory-hogs? I have to cut a few corners in my daily cooking (yes, I will buy chopped garlic for emergencies), but I won’t take them just so that I can have time to deck out a “table-scape.”

    My goodness, have I been on the soap box this long? I really just meant to say that I really love your site. And while I do rip on Rachel’s mannerisms (it is fun), I’m grateful to her cooking style.

  10. Do I lose foodie cred if I unabashedly adore Rachel Ray? She’s one of the few people whose recipes don’t require me to go broke (poor college student here), and she’s cute and fun to watch.

  11. You know what is funny is that I just posted to my own blog that I intensely dislike Sandra Lee, but that I admire Rachael Ray. I actually couldn’t stand her when I first started watching (EVOO?! Come on! The acronym’s longer than just saying it). As soon as she came on, I would shut the TV off. Then slowly I began to appreciate what she offers: good, relatively wholesome, non-fast-foodie type of meals. And less time in the kitchen for busy moms. I appreciate that part. Even though I absolutely love to cook and could easily spend hours in a kitchen myself, I realize that getting healthy food on the table can be really really hard. And Rachael Ray does a good job of that: she makes it all doable for people who don’t really like to cook.

    …Instead, I spent a few long paragraphs bashing Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade – ugh. Now there’s a show I really dislike!!

  12. I can’t watch RR and don’t have cable so that’s not a problem, but I agree that if she can get people into the kitchen to cook, even with packaged, pre-made anything, that is a step in the right direction. To each their own, I always say. Those brownies look good enough to lick off the screen

  13. Those brownies…uh…excuse the RR-ism…nevermind – can’t bring myself to actually say that awful “YUM-O” phrase when what I really mean it – I have GOT to make those tonight. Though, except for her dumb explatives…I really do like to watch her shows…plus she looks like she actually might eat some of the food she makes unlike…Sandra Lee! I don’t know how a woman who has you buy premade angel food cake and decorate it has a show – or stays thin! Why doesn’t she just deep-fry a twinkie – then she’ll actually cook something.

    Ok then anyway – Deb – love the smitten alternative site & happy anniversary to you both…

    I think the truly

  14. A note from a middle-aged male…A neighbor of mine who is an excellent cook moved away about a year ago. He was a food channel addict and I watched some with him. After eating some of his cooking, I stared to realize that food could taste good! So, late in life I have fallen in love with cooking. Of course, my knowledge level is still at the beginners level and as such Rachael Ray is a godsend. So what if it takes me an hour to cook a 30 min meal. I love cooking… The way she talks can be a Little annoying at times, but I’m sure the way I speak annoys some people.

    Hears to Rachael Ray and Alton Brown…

    Cheers

  15. MY problem with Rachel Ray is the 40$ a Day show… oh my god, woman! You cannot leave a 60 cent tip, even if it is 15%!!!! And of course I don’t believe she actually leaves such chintzy tips, but I feel like the undertone of her show is that you can get by eating cheaply if you look for specials, leave a precise tip, and never even think twice about not tipping on the FULL PRICE of whatever you just ate. That really chaps my ass.

    (I’ve been waiting several days to say something chaps my ass. I think this was a solid use of the phrase.)

  16. Honestly…I have no problem with her.
    I’ve made her recepies before, though the way she names her food can silly…the vodak creme pasta being a perfect example, quite frankly, anyone that brings people into their kitchen to cook rather than call the pizza guy deserves a little credit.

    Besides, her show is targeted to cooking novices, so don’t get your undies in twist. :)

    Her tipping on $40 a day really bugs me, but she’s trying to seriously eat food for $40 a day…and how many people factor tips into their food bill durring vacations? Most don’t… she’s only reflecting that.

    If you don;t like it, factor tips into your food bill the next time you eat out on a budjet…or any time really.

  17. I refuse to even watch Rachel Ray, but I made this pasta last night and it was damn good.
    Also? Another controversial figure (who I happen to love), Nigella Lawson, has a Food Network show starting October 1st.

  18. I’ve long been a fan of RR’s 30-Minute Meals; even have her cookbooks and the meals are great. BUT – the new talk show is so sickening that I had to turn it off on the premier. Same thing yesterday with Oprah. The premier was nothing but screaming, yelling, giggling and I swore she took speed before the taping. Then things got worse. Rachael “cures” a woman of her fear of heights by skydiving? Yesterday, it was “How RR Saved My Life”. Is this Dr. Phil?? The show insults anyone with an ounce of intelligence and really works your nerves with this speed-freak style of unending ranting. She should have left well enough alone and stuck to the Food Network.

  19. I love your site & check it regularly for updates, the pictures are really inspiring too! Just wanted to check what pastry flour is, I live in Sydney, Australia and haven’t found any pastry flour in the shops??

  20. Hi Sashikha – Pastry flour, among a spectrum of flours, has a moderate-to-low amount of gluten. (Bread flour has the most, cake has some of the least.) In this recipe, at least, I wouldn’t worry about not having the exact right stuff because there is so little of it. It may not have as fine as a crumb, but odds are you won’t notice or care. Use cake flour if you have it, if not just use all-purpose.

    Good luck!

  21. Hello first time reader. Happy belated anniversary. I agree that Penne Ala Vodka recipe is delicious. Does the sauce taste similar to tomato soup you recently made?

  22. I’ve never seen a RR show, as they didn’t show it in Scotland and neither do they show it Estonia. But even I’ve noticed the rr-bashing at food blogosphere:)
    I’d try the vodka penne recipe of hers, but as I fell in love with Nigella Lawson’s (a lot easier) penne alla vodka recipe (from “Feast”) a while ago, I’ll stick to that:) Might try those brownies thou!

  23. I just wanted to say that I have a similar story! I wanted to make a pasta dish for this guy I had just begun dating and this recipe seemed easy enough. My friends and I joked about the “you wont be single for long” title and I was rather mortified so I cut off the title from the printed recipe! He barely noticed that the title was missing and the pasta must have worked because we are getting married. RR is cheesy but this recipe has apparently earned its name!

  24. I’m not a die hard fan or a hater of RR but all I can say is “Hey – who doesn’t do or say something that annoys us?!” We all have our own quirks! I say the RR haters should lay off – Besides, have you seen the fat cow that started the RR Sucks website??? She’s got ALOT of nerve to talk about people!

  25. I’m going through your old posts to see what I missed before I started reading in June =) and I have to say, I love the wedding picture. It’s absolutely gorgeous and reminds me of my cousin’s wedding photos from this summer. Congratulations (a bit late, hah)!

  26. Yep, this is good. It comes together so quickly and makes enough for two lunch portions for the next day.

    I added some red pepper flakes for zing.

  27. Sad thing is, I have heard other chefs on TV saying EVOO and sammy. The one I hate the most is stroup. But I have to say I will try the penne vodka sauce recipe. I have also made her chicken meatball sub. Not bad.

  28. Browsing around your site I came to this recipe. I’ve been trying to nail down a really good vodka sauce for a while; ever since I had it at a restaurant in my hometown in fact. I’ve gotten excruciatingly close in the past but nothing has ever quite hit the mark, and I’m starting to think that using shallots instead of onions might do the trick. Personally, I’m against using the chicken stock because I feel like it would make the sauce too thin and what I’m going for is extremely creamy. I’m going to save this recipe because I like to try new things, but I think I’m also going to try for the shallots in my personal recipe to see if that gives it the missing flavor I’ve been going for. Thanks!

    Also, it just so happens that the first thing I ever cooked for my husband was penne a la vodka. I was so distracted by my nervousness of cooking for him I put it way too much vodka and ruined it. He had never had it before so he thought it was fantastic, even though I kept complaining it wasn’t right!

  29. The Trattoria cookbook by Patricia Wells has the most amazing vodka pasta recipe EVER. Seriously. It’s also easy once you have the ingredients in place (the only “non-pantry item” you need for it is fresh parsley), and it is just as good a few days later. It makes a huge batch and is lovely in color, texture, and taste. Wells’ secret is crushed tomatoes and red pepper flakes with vodka and cream thrown in for good measure and flat-leaf parsley mixed over the whole thing (which could be omitted). It’s one of my favorite go-to dishes all year long, and her other recipes in Trattoria and her other cookbook Bistro are also delicious yet simple as well. Enjoy!

  30. So, last Valentine’s Day I made the “You won’t be Single For Long” pasta for myself and two other single friends. This Valentine’s Day all three of us will be celebrating with significant others! True story. What is it about this pasta?

    Rachael can be quite annoying at times, but I enjoy her recipes. They are usually pretty easy to prepare after a long day of work/school!

    PS) I love Smitten Kitchen

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  31. I’m a fan of her recipes, because as a medical student who refuses to eat out all the time, cheap and fast recipes are necessary! I’m also a “Wasn’t Single For Long” girl…I made the pasta for my then-boyfriend, and was so embarrassed at the title of it that while I cooked I made fun of the title and that he’d better not propose because of a pasta dish. Within a month, we were engaged. He does like my cooking, but the timing was pure, funny, coincidence!

    My favorite ‘personality’ on the Food Network is Alton Brown though, he’s who inspired me to start asking the “why” questions about cooking. Leading to my current read- “On Food and Cooking” (McGee).

  32. Hi, Deb, I have a quick question. I just made this last night after not-so-patiently waiting for it for over a week. And while the flavors were incredible and my first taste of shallots blew me away, the sauce was extremely thin. Since I’ve never had the recipe before, I’m not sure if that’s how it’s supposed to be, but looking at your picture above, it does seem that you got your sauce a little thicker.

    What can I do to help this? Should I add more cream? Should I cook it for longer on a low heat, will it thicken on its own in the fridge overnight?

    I’m actually fine with it the way it is – although good lord, were we wishing for some garlic bread to soak up the liquid left in the bottom of the bowl. But my husband is not a big fan of thin sauces. Plus, I’d been talking up the recipe all week, so I think he felt let down. I also cut up a hot italian sausage and cooked it with the sauce, because he is a very big fan of meat. :)

    Regardless, thanks so much for passing on the recipe, minus the thinness issue, I thought it was great. Here’s to learning to love shallots! Next up this week, your pizza dough.

  33. Hi Cailet — Hard to say what went awry from afar but you could always cook the sauce until a thicker point next time before adding the cream or simply use less chicken stock.

  34. I’ve made this pasta sauce several times now, both with vodka and with red wine, and it’s an absolute winner! Thanks so much for this :)

  35. does it matter if the butter in the brownies is salted or unsalted? i always second guess myself on butter…

  36. i made the brownies with unsalted butter but i think they really needed salt, so i’d go with salted next time!

  37. I understand the annoyance with rr, but I owe her a debt of gratitude in the kitchen. She caught my attention because she was down-to-earth and what she was cooking at the time looked tasty and do-able. My mother enjoyed cooking for our family, but she wasn’t terribly imaginative in the kitchen (lots of ground beef and casseroles) and I thought that fresh herbs and ingredients like portabello mushrooms were outside the domain of the simple home kitchen. So RR and 30-minute meals were a stepping stone for me and I’ve since cracked opne Julia Child’s cooksbooks and frequent issues of Bon Appetit without feeling like a poser. ;) Heck, this website would probably have intimidated me before RR eased me into the world of better cooking!

  38. Wow the pasta recipe really does live up to its name! I wasn’t planning for this to happen, but I made it last night for a guy I’ve been dating for the past month, and literally 10 minutes after we finished eating, he asked me to officially be his girlfriend(we’re still in college). It really was delicious though…thanks Deb!

  39. I just youtubed Sandra Lee`s Kwanzaa Cake. When she bit into it, I actually gagged.
    On a happier note, I think I`ll undo it by making brownies.

  40. Oh my looooord, I was not expecting anything special from this pasta, I only made it because we had everything. It was, hands down, the tastiest pasta I have ever made (even though I halved the amount of cream!)
    My sister and I were licking our plates clean. Who knew it would be so much better than the sum of its parts?!

  41. My boyfriend made this pasta for me last night and we loved it! It was so simple and so tasty. We changed the measurements a little- 1/2 tablespoon of butter, 2/3 cup of vodka and 1/3 cup of heavy cream. Then added 1/2 cup of grated parmesan after the heavy cream. Thanks for the recipe and great picture:)

  42. Hi,

    I came across this post randomly, linked off another post of yours. My boyfriend and I just made this two nights ago (and I had leftovers for lunch today, in fact). We used a can of Trader Joe’s whole tomatoes, which he valiantly crushed with our drink muddler (since TJ’s was out of crushed tomatoes when I went). The resulting pasta tasted great but was really runny – and thus my boyfriend said it was a failure. I don’t think so, but it was mighty soupy. Do you think it’s due to the tomatoes? I’m not sure if it’s that, or if it’s because of all the other liquids…Am debating cutting down the chicken broth next time, too. Would be curious to get your take.

    Thanks!

  43. Loved how the sweet tomato flavor was not buried under cream. I’m used to vodka sauces being super-heavy pink affairs, but I believe this may be my new way to go.

  44. Rachel, I read your comment before making this and cut the chicken stock down to 1/4 cup. I felt it still added flavor to the sauce, but I was glad to not have an extra 3/4 cup of liquid in there since mine was still on the runny side. Next time I also might try a little less vodka, or cooking it down more. I had the time to let the tomatoes stew for a while (30-40mins) and they actually thickened up quite a bit but the whole thing became a bit runny again after I added the cream. Maybe it needed more cooking after adding the cream. In spite of all this, it was one of the best sauces I’ve ever made and is absolutely worth making again.

    Deb, after all the San Marzano hype on this website I finally took the plunge…they are unbelievable and well worth the extra cost. Thanks for the tip. As my boyfriend put it, “Now that we’ve tasted these, we can never go back.”

  45. I made the pasta last night… and it was truly amazing.. so few innocuous ingredients made the most amazing (easy) pasta ever.. I added 1 red chili for a bit of bite – superb

  46. I know this post is old but I couldn’t help but add a comment about Rachel Ray’s show $40 per day. I was her server when she came to our restaurant to film an episode where I learned her trick to saving money was to not tip the servers!

  47. This recipe was super simple and incredibly delicious. I used fat-free sour cream because I had to use it and my own sauce instead of canned tomatoes because I’m a good Italian girl, and was quite pleased by the “Oh!” response from my boyfriend as he ate. Thanks again! Your big crumb cake and sweet and smoky ribs are part of the ever-awkward ‘meeting of the parents’ menu this weekend. I can’t wait!

  48. Hmmm…hard to know if I’d be single for long if I hadn’t already been married for almost 19 years. How did we manage that in California, the capital of shallow? I think because we made so darn much pasta, together, for those first several years. This is very good, despite the Rachel Ray-ness of it. I goofed up and used tomato puree instead of crushed so, as compensatory effort, I added maybe 1/4 C. more chicken stock and a teensy bit more cream. As a result there was too little pasta for too much sauce but I suspect it’ll all come out just fine with the leftovers. I’ll happily make it again. Served it w/ a plain salad, good ciabatta and roasted broccoli. Very tasty. And I’m still married with children.

  49. Hi,
    My brother’s girlfriend loves penne a la vodka but she is a vegetarian… can I substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth or do you have another recommendation for a vegetarian penne a la vodka?

    Thanks!

  50. Made this last night and it was really good. Added some thyme and crushed red pepper. Also made a side of peas and ended up mixing them in! :) Love the picture with your wedding gown and rings.

  51. I just made this, and am eating it as I type.
    It is delicious, so for I have made 15 recipes from your site, and I am satisfied with everyone.
    Thank you!

  52. I tried this today after looking to test out a new penne a la vodka recipe, and like one of the other readers, found that it was really soupy and there was just so much liquid, it kind of drown the rest of the flavors. Maybe I did something wrong?

  53. I made this last night because I have never made penne a la vodka and thought it would be something different to make.Thought it was missing something, so I kept adding cream, some sugar to help with the heavy tomato taste, and topped it with grated parmesan. It was enjoyed by my guests, but I felt like it could have been better and didn’t know how to improve on it besides what I did. I served it topped with grilled shrimp, and surrounded it with steamed broccoli florets. Maybe I’ll try another recipe at some point..but I do love Smitten Kitchen so will keep coming back.

  54. Oh Deb! You are my cooking inspiration! I have been lurking at your site for over a year now trying many of your recipes with only the best results!

    That said, I have now tried this recipe three times without any luck, and I am starting to get upset about all the vodka that is being sacrificed! The first time I tried it I blamed its lack of flavor on trying to watch tv while cooking. The second time I just wasn’t pleased with the ratio of creamy to tomato-y balance. The third time it should have been just perfect but I was still unimpressed!

    The sauce just seems to be hovering between being overwhelmed by that specific flavor of the onion sauteed in the butter and just tasting not-quite-cooked. The individual ingredients aren’t transforming into something new. I did use vidalia onion instead of the shallots (I live in Georgia and they are just so cheap!) is that making the difference? But most of all is there a specific flavor that the vodka is supposed to bring to the sauce? Am I doing something wrong if I feel like I might as well have not added it at all?

    Sometimes I try recipes and realize the dish just might not be my ‘thing’, but this is the first time I feel like I just don’t get what I’m doing wrong. I am quite irked, please lend your considerable knowledge!

    Hopefully the recipe is just not cursed against single people! ;)

  55. I have made this so many times I’ve practically memorized it. So fabulous.

    To the people encountering overly-soupy sauces, perhaps you’re not cooking down the vodka enough? I usually only add about 1/2 a cup of chicken broth. Another trick is to add the cooked, drained pasta to the pot of sauce for a few minutes before serving — it absorbs all the flavors and gets in all the nooks & crannies much more thoroughly!

    (A linguistic quibble: since this is an Italian recipe, the name is technically penne alla vodka, “alla” being the Italian equivalent of “à la”. But I’m sure the French don’t mind your ascribing this brilliance to them!)

  56. My husband and I thought of making penne/vodka sauce and brownies for Valentine’s Day, randomly, and then stumbled upon this duo of recipes. Which, of course, meant that we had to make them! Both came out perfectly, and we followed your recipes precisely with no adjustments. The sauce was silky and creamy but not overly rich, with a lovely tang that I’m assuming is from the vodka. And the brownies were the best I’ve ever had. I love your recipes, and the pictures are so beautiful!

  57. Love the tomato vodka sauce! I do, however, have one question: Was the link moved, or is there a reason we’re dumping on kwanzaa recipes…?

    1. The link at the end of the second paragraph once went to the famously horribly offensive Sandra Lee recipe for Kwanzaa Cake (it had CORN NUTS in it, just to give you an idea of how awful it was). It probably had a thousand comments on it and I see that the Food Network finally decided to take it down and redirect people to their “Kwanzaa recipe” index. Nevertheless, you can see the video of it here.

      I’m removing the link so people don’t misunderstand and think I have a problem with the holiday itself.

  58. I first made this last summer, and everyone loved it! I’ve made it a couple of times since then, and it’s always been a hit. Thank you for posting this!

  59. Paula Deen helped me navigate the familiar, Rachael Ray encouraged me to at least pretend I was fearless in the kitchen, and Sandra Lee existed explicity for comparison (“at least we’re not THAT bad!” my mother and I would say). And yes, many years later I have moved beyond the 30 minute meals, but I made this penne with vodka sauce last night and it hit the spot! It was a dismal Friday, and I wanted something so satisfying but still springy. This was rich enough for sure – also, I used diced tomatoes and went at them with an immersion blender after they simmered so I could get them to a creamy-with-chunks consistency. So tomato-y!

  60. Oh, and i think the salt content is especially crucial in this dish. Salt pasta water well of course, and season the sauce to adjust often!

  61. Oh my gosh – I just made this pasta and it was DIVINE. I have to admit I was skeptical – I just couldn’t envisage what about tomato + cream + vodka could be that amazing. But it had an umami note to it that was just so moreish. I halved the chicken stock as others have recommended – the sauce was still quite runny but I felt as though it was the right texture as it really coated every strand of pasta. Also, substituted penne for spaghetti and it still worked brilliantly.

  62. This is a fabulous recipe for people who’re not a big fan of red tomato sauce. I ended up using 28oz can of crushed tomato since I couldn’t find a 32oz can at the store. I didn’t think it would affect the flavor of the sauce since I always find tomato to overpower other flavors. This is also a good recipe for people who are tight on budget. And oh, the shallot is a must – it creates a sweet base and compliments the edge of tomato and vodka. Wonderful dinner.

  63. Absolutely amazing! I made the pasta and the brownies for a dinner party last night and they were both a big hit. I was in the mood for something spicy so I chopped and browned one package of spicy italian sausage in a cast iron skillet then added to the sauce as it simmered, before adding the heavy cream. The brownies are incredibly rich so I served them with fresh strawberries to balance the meal.

  64. I made this last night for dinner and it was simply wonderful. I swapped out the chicken stock for vegetable stock and also put in an extra garlic clove. This dish is so rich and tasteful. It will definitely be a staple in my home.

  65. Am i the only one who had scrambled eggs after i poured the eggs into the chocolate mixture? Because i am very, very sad now, after following directions to a T, to have failed miserably. I dont even have the motivation to continue. :(

  66. I love this recipe, but my partner is, gasp, lactose intolerant. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to adapt this to his needs?

  67. These brownies came out really greasy. Any thoughts about what went wrong? They tasted okay, but really not great at all. I feel like maybe my butter and chocolate didn’t melt together right or something.

  68. Sarah,

    Don’t worry! It happens to the best of us! Now that you know what can happen, you can take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Next time do one (or both) of these two things:
    1. Wait for the batter to cool a bit more, warm enough to touch can be a good rule of thumb
    2. Temper the eggs – google this and you can find great how-to websites and videos on youtube.

  69. I also would like to come to the defense of RR. Her enthusiasm for the food she cooks makes me want to cook it right away! My husband too, and he’s not into cooking. Her recipes are simple without being boring. So I can put up with a bit of annoying, because I’ve learned a lot of quick yummy recipes from her.

  70. hi deb-
    have to gush a little first-love love love your site, even as a relatively novice “chef” on a tight student budget, i find things i can cook for my friends in dorm room kitchens that everyone still loves. so, thank you!

    now, my question-could only find 28oz cans of tomatoes at westside this week, and unlike the previous 28oz commenter, i LOVE the taste of tomatoes…how do you think i should reduce the other components (namely the cream) so i don’t miss out on their flavor?

    thank you!

  71. I have made this pasta many times before, and it is always delicious. Made brownies last night for the first time, and they are incredible! So moist and chocolatey the next day, as well as crispy and chewy on top. Best brownies I’ve had in a long time. Thanks Deb!

  72. I used to love watching Rachel but now I just use her recipes because her show has lost a lot of its shine for me. I do kind of feel like I need to make a “Leave Rachel Alone!” YouTube video because people give her a lot of poo unnecessarily. She’s the same as a lot of us and if you ignore her silly recipe names she knows about some good eating. Her pistachio parsley pesto pasta is so ridiculously good hubby would fight someone to the death for it.

    1. Randi — I might have rolled my eyes at this recipes name, but I have no bone to pick with Ms. Ray. I think she’s quite talented and I am not really sure why so-called foodies get up in arms about her, but it seems their time could be better spent tackling *actual* food evils, such as sketchy ingredient lists in packaged foods (I’m not overly familiar with Rachel Ray’s recipes, but all the ones I’ve seen call for nothing more packaged than canned tomatoes or frozen peas, hardly evil stuff!) or people who don’t have access to fresh produce to cook with.

  73. The Book of Burger by RR, has a high success rate in our kitchen. I would rather turn the tv off than watch her show, but this book is yummy. Try the gyro burger or the buffalo chicken burger.

  74. Deb, it’s a lovely story! I got home from having my hair did tonight, and this pasta seemed like just the thing (for some reason I’ve never had it) – and it’s delicious. My sincere thanks for all your hard work here – you really have accumulated a great archive. Very reliable (and enjoyable) commentary and instructions, beautiful pictures, and an impressive assortment of dishes. We have been enjoying many of your recipes of late – the intensely chocolate sables and fried chicken are notable examples. Thanks for the inspiration and excellent work!

    1. Abby — If you’ve used it successfully in other pasta recipes, no reason not to try it here. I haven’t tried it; my biggest concern would be curdling.

  75. I wish I had read the comments before making this because my sauce turned out pretty runny as well. I made a roux to thicken it and also dumped in a load of grated cheddar for good measure. That seemed to do the trick. :) Next time I would probably halve the vodka and the stock.

    It’s not a problem to freeze the sauce, is it? I doubled the recipe and figured I could keep some on hand for another time, defrost and cook up some pasta for a quick dinner. Thoughts?

    Thanks!

  76. Lol – I have used this recipe more than once and just now did I read the excerpt about ray being in FHM. Hilarious photos! Quite the cry for help, thanks for the good laugh on a sickly afternoon. :)

  77. In an attempt to find all your brownie recipes (THANK YOU for your index), I decided to click on this land learned a bit of history about the food blogging world. Rachel Ray – well, she isn’t my favorite either, but she does make us home cooks look good and feel like we can make great food even if it’s super simple!
    Aside from that, I think I may make this at some point. Would it be good sans-vodka? Or, is it evident that the vodka totally cooks out? Or, third and final question, can you add the potentially add the vodka last so you can have a kid-friendly portion of the sauce available for your favorite miniature human being?

  78. I have made another version of vodka penne, which was pretty tasty, and since Deb has never steered me wrong, I’ll try this. However, in reading through the blog, I had never heard of Sandra Lee or the Kwanzaa cake. Watching the link and really couldn’t believe anyone would think of putting any of that stuff together. The comments were pretty funny! Anyone needing a laugh should check out the link. I have no opinion on RR; don’t know that I’ve ever watched her but if what she’s done is get people back into the kitchen, then my hat is off to her.
    Keep up the good work, Deb! And good luck on the next several months.

  79. Like Laura above, I’m wondering if anyone tried this without vodka. We have recovering addicts in our family and don’t do alcohol…. I read somewhere I can try apple juice and lime juice mixed together… might be good or really bad. I also am thinking I will try adding in some chicken since my family loves their meat. I’ll let you know what happens!

  80. after reading your “thousandth post” er…post (congrats!) i somehow fell down a smitten kitchen rabbit hole and ended up here, among other places. typical! and wonderful.

    i loved RR from the jump, but definitely had to abandon ship from her TV show for quite awhile when she became that weird caricature of herself, yelling and over the top cheery and making up silly names and acronyms for things. (what’s the point of calling it EVOO if literally every time you say it you then say, “extra virgin olive oil” to clarify?)

    i recall i even had a livejournal icon (ha! oh how the years have gone by…) of her with that chocolate covered spoon and the text reading “stick it in my garbage bowl.” sorry, sorry, not very PG of me but man it was hilarious. personally taking the lid of the trash can works just fine for me vs. dirtying another dish just for garbage, but it’s a concept that really is helpful, imho. (i also always think of RR whenever – and i’m always doing this – i do the big fridge or pantry carry, piling up everything at once and trying not to drop it all on the floor on the very short way to the counter.)

    her recipes always turn out for me and my s/o’s over the years have always loved them (RR was actually exceptionally helpful when i had to cook for a vegetarian for years!), and her pans survived our nine alarm house fire last year. (boy, were you ever right about her about to be getting rich, huh?) and i think she’s come full circle on the annoying bit – i’ve started to catch her on food network here and there and she seems to have calmed back down into a more…person type person.

    but sandra lee…ugh. sometimes i would try to watch her for laughs and i couldn’t even do that. is she still around? i’m afraid to look. in any case, thanks for the reminiscing on this beautiful (finally fall!!) saturday morning. happy 1000th, deb!

  81. all this time later and i finally got around to making this recipe last week with great results. i doubled up on the shallots & garlic and added a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. i also let the vodka really cook down to more like 1/4, and let the sauce sit on the stove for a bit to make sure it was really thick. (plus, boyperson was really late getting home from work anyway!) i just made sure to not add the cream until the very end. will definitely make this again – finally starting to be able to get mr. meat & potatoes to eat not only pasta but pasta without meat added to it after all these years. pretty awesome.

    served it with parmesan shavings, torn basil, & a big green salad. i had it leftover for lunch a few days later, just nuked in the microwave. it was still great, but nothing like it was fresh from the stovetop.

    if i had one quibble, it would be that you list this as “adapted” when it is a letter-for-letter copy/paste from the food network source link, so i would probably remove that word. otherwise fantastic as usual, another winner. :)