Nigella’s Penne alla vodka


Leafing through Nigella’s Feast, I came across a recipe for Penne alla vodka, which tickled my imagination! A combination of vodka + tomato + cheese sounded very interesting, and admitedly, very appealing! According to Nigella, the dish originated in 1960s in Rome. Renowned American food writer and restaurant critic Arthur Schwartz sheds light on how it originated:

“This is not a traditional Italian recipe. I know because I was there — more or less — at its invention. It was the early 1970s and vodka was a relatively new spirit to Italians. To promote the consumption of vodka in Italy, vodka distillers provided restaurants with gizmos that kept both the vodka and vodka glasses chilled and they held recipe contests among Italian chefs. This dish was the rage in fashion-conscious Italian circles in the mid ’70s. I never see it anymore in Italy. But Americans are entranced by the idea, even though it is nothing more than a tomato cream sauce with hot pepper and a good dose of vodka, which, to be frank, is hardly detectable in the finished dish.

To be totally historically correct, I should add that the hot pepper is a late addition. The original recipe was made with pepper-flavored vodka.”

Interesting, isn’t it?

Today, there are many versions of this dish, some including crushed chilies, other cubes of bacon. Why not play around with different possibilities?

 I am submitting this dish to Ruth’s Presto Pasta Night at Once Upon a Feast. Check out the round-up next Friday at Ruth’s!





Penne alla vodka


SOURCE: Nigella Lawson’s Feast

PREPARATION TIME: less than 5 min

COOKING TIME: 30 – 35 min

CUISINE: Modern Italian



  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic-infused oil (I just used olive oil and 2 cloves of garlic)
  • Salt
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp double cream
  • penne rigate or other short, preferably ridged, pasta
  • 65 ml vodka
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • Parmesan for grating over at the table (I used cheddar)


  1. If you are cooking this just before you eat, put the water on to boil before you start the sauce. You will need a big pan, enough to take the pasta and its sauce later.
  2. Finely chop the onion, either by hand or in a processor. In a large pan, heat the garlic oil and add the finely chopped onion and a good sprinkling of salt. Cook the onion fairly gently for about 15 minutes without letting it catch and burn, which just means giving it a stir every now and again. It should be very soft and just beginning to caramelize.
  3. Tip in the can of chopped tomatoes and continue cooking over a gentle heat, simmering for another 15-20 minutes. If you’re cooking this in advance, stop here.
  4. Reheat the almost finished tomatoes (or just continue as you were if you’re making this recipe in one go), stir in the double cream and take the pan off the heat. When the water for the pasta comes to the boil add a good measure of salt and tip in the penne. Set a timer for 3-4 minutes less than the packet instructions for cooking it, as you want to make sure it’s cooked al dente and will need to start tasting early.
  5. Drain the cooked pasta, tip it back in the pan and pour over the vodka, add the butter and some more salt. Turn the penne in the vodka and melting butter and then tip it into the tomato sauce unless it is easier to pour the tomato sauce over the pasta: it depends on the sizes of the pans you are using.
  6. Toss the pasta in the sauce until it is evenly coated and turn out into a large, warmed bowl. Put it on the table along with a block of parmesan cheese and a grater.





Inspite of all the raving reviews from elsewhere, I was not too impressed by this dish. However, I think this maybe be purely my fault. I was a bit overenthusiastic with the vodka, and added about 1 dl or more to the pasta, and this was exactly the problem for me: It had too much vodka. There you go, it is possible to have too much vodka! Also, I didn’t have any cream at home, so I just omitted it.

This is an interesting dish, and I promise I’ll give it another go when I have some vodka at home, and let you know how it went.


Recipes for Penne alla vodka from other websites:

Arthur Schwartz’s recipe

Lidia Matticchio Bastianich at Epicurious


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Leave a comment


  1. Sorry to hear you didn’t like it, but it may indeed have been the fault of excess vodka:) I add plenty of vodka, but definitely also cream (I often use mascarpone for super-creamy effect), and I also use lots more herbs in it.
    A great quick pasta dish in any case!!


  2. Maninas

     /  1 July, 2007

    Yes, I think it has been the fault of excess vodka, because it tasted too strongly of vodka. Mascarpone sounds delicious, I often add it to tomato sauce (and risotto). I’ll give that a go! Riiight now I have a great excuse to purchase another bottle of vodka! 😉


  3. Great post, even if the dish didn’t turn out exactly as planned.

    I do hope to see you back at Presto Pasta Nights with other great pasta recipes and stories.

    Check back for the roundup on Friday.


  4. I’ve been wanting to try a vodka pasta dish for a long time. It’s about time I do it and it’s always nice to learn that sometimes you really should stick to the recipe. I would have been like you and thought that a little bit more wouldn’t hurt! Thanks for sharing! 🙂


  5. That sounds very interesting. Definite worth a try. I made my own lemocello recently and I plan to have an “italian” dinner with my in-laws when we try my homemade lemoncello, so I think this would be an unique dish to try. Thanks for writing about it.


  6. Maninas

     /  9 July, 2007

    Ruth, great round up! It was a pleasure to take part! I will definitely do it again!

    Christine, yes, sometimes one needs to follow the recipe. And, what was the most amazing for me, _you can have too much vodka_! so, go easy on the vodka, and pille says to add loads of cream, and the result should be better than mine! I will try it again though, because it’s such a great combination.

    Nora, you made your own lemoncello? I’m impressed! Is the recipe on your blog?


  7. Lynsey

     /  23 August, 2007

    What are some good side dishes to serve with the penne?


  8. Maninas

     /  23 August, 2007

    Hi Lynsey! I would recommend a simple mixed leaf salad. You can also serve some garlic bread for people to mop up the juices, or focaccia, if you don’t mind bread and pasta. Having said this, my Italian friends _never_ eat salad along pasta, but I do! They have their salad either before, or after the pasta.

    As for focaccia, recently we had some left over pizza dough, and topped it with some olive oil, garlic and green chili – delicious!


  9. Shane R.

     /  13 May, 2008

    Omitting the cream certainly must taken a large toll on the dish, I’d omit the vodka before the cream.


  10. 🙂 I’m not sure I would! In fact, I didn’t, which was a mistake. Actually, I think both really contribute to the taste, and it’s best not to omit either if at all possible.


  11. Gianluigi

     /  28 July, 2009

    I used to eat this dish in a italian restaurant near Como lake. I’ve just finished to cook this receipe. The pasta tastes deliciously. I add (because I know that usually Nigella is a bit generous with the portions) only 25 ml of Vodka.
    Simply perfect!


  12. I was a bit overenthusiastic with my vodka the first time, and as a result all I could taste was vodka! And vodka just simply doesn’t go with pasta, as much as I love both!

    I’ll have to try this one again… 🙂


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