Sober Penne A.K.A “Penne with Vodka Sauce, Hold the Vodka”

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.

Federico Fellini

Vodka Sauce?! I’ve ordered this in restaurants before and thought to myself, is there really vodka in there? And if so, WHY? Well I did a little research, and it turns out the vodka does have a few purposes. The vodka will help release some flavors that you wouldn’t naturally taste if they were absorbed in water. The vodka also serves as a stabilizing ingredient, helping the fats and waters come together cohesively. Basically, the vodka is helping to release some of the flavors of the sauce, and help it come together into a smooth mixture.

Emulsifiers: If you don’t know what an emulsifier is, let me give you an example. Have you ever had to shake up an oil and vinegar dressing to the point where you might as well just skip arm day at the gym? I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “They’re like oil and water, they just don’t mix.” Well friends, oil and water don’t make a cohesive duo until the emulsifier is introduced into the relationship. My favorite emulsifier to add into a dressing is mustard. Add a little mustard to an oil and vinegar dressing, and they can all finally be friends. I’m thinking of so many analogies that can go with this, but again, I digress.

The point here is that the vodka acts as an emulsifier in this sauce, helping the tomatoes and the cream mix together and be more cohesive. The reality is that the alcohol will mostly all cook out, and you won’t really taste it. You will just have a more smooth, cohesive sauce. The problem is that my husband and I don’t drink vodka, and we definitely don’t have penne with vodka enough to warrant me buying something that I won’t even taste in the sauce!

I did some experimenting with an existing vodka sauce recipe to find one that was still creamy and cohesive, but without having to use the vodka. What I found is that I just had to cook the sauce down a little longer and I thought it tasted great even without the vodka serving as our sauce therapist.

So here is my adaptation of a recipe I found in “The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles.” Their original recipe is called Penne with Tomato Sauce with Vodka and Cream. I’m calling mine “Sober Penne.”