Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Budgets and Bargains: Nigella's Penne alla Vodka

This week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs is Budgets and Bargains. Nigella's Penne all Vodka worked out quite well in terms of the grocery budget as well as a budget of time.
At its simplest: a big can of tomatoes, box of penne, an onion, some garlic, a splash of vodka and a splash of cream. What could be more budget friendly than that?
We had everything on hand, and this dish was the perfect dinner for a late night as the sauce is quite happy to rest and wait until you are ready to cook the pasta.

*A note on cheese* grating your cheese makes it go much further than slicing it, and even though people use less - it looks like more. Hard cheeses grate beautifully fluffy and airy with a Microplane grater.

Penne alla Vodka
Nigella Lawson, Feast
(I made a half batch)


1 good-sized onion
2 tablespoons garlic-infused oil (I used olive oil and added in 5 chopped cloves of garlic when the onion was almost done)
2 x 410g cans chopped tomatoes (the big can)
2 tablespoons double cream
1kg penne rigate or other short, preferably ridged, pasta
125ml vodka
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Parmesan for grating over at the table
(fresh ground black pepper)
(chilie flakes)


1. If you are cooking this just before you eat, put the water for the penne 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 almost beginning to caramelize.

3. Tip in the cans of chopped tomatoes and continue cooking over a gentle heat, simmering for another 15–20 minutes. If you’re cooking this ahead, and I always do, stop here.

4. Reheat the almost-finished tomatoes (or just continue as you were if you’re making this in one unbroken fluid movement), 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, and 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 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 and a grater.

*I added chilie flakes and black pepper - I like the bite it gave to the dish.