Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola

I know, I know….another pasta recipe.  I’m sure it won’t be my last, but bear with me people, I just had to share.   There are so many reasons why this one’s special, but let me give you the short list…cream, vodka, crushed red pepper, parmesan cheese.  Oh dear.

We’re talkin about some serious good flavors going on here.  We’re talkin about a sauce that’s baked in the oven for an hour and a half so the tomatoes, onions and garlic become one with the vodka.  I love it when that happens.  And fresh oregano adds just the right herbal note at the end.

I saw Ina Garten make this on her show with one of the chefs from Nick and Tony’s restaurant in the Hampton’s.  It seems that someone there got the recipe from someone in Italy years ago and it’s been a favorite on their menu ever since.

I did a little sleuthing and discovered that this is one of the signature pasta dishes of a restaurant called Alla Vecchia Bettola in Florence, so it apparently does have a verifiable Italian lineage.  Not that it really matters one whit to me, because it had me at the first bite.  Slightly spicy, rich, yet amazingly light, silky smooth and unctuously flavorful…this one’s special.  I just had to share.

Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola

Adapted from Ina Garten and Nick and Tony's restaurant
Printable Recipe

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
1 pound penne pasta
4 tablespoons fresh oregano
3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
Grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

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.

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.

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

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

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.