While in graduate school, I loved getting invited to my friend Patty’s home for dinner because they are from Italy and know how to cook! Her Grandmother would always make the most unbelievable Penne alla vodka – the best I’ve ever had! The fabulous smell when you walked in the house overwelmed you, and you knew the greatest family feast was about to be served. Now with a family of my own, we are still huge fans of Penne alla vodka. We always picked out the peas, and I couldn’t help wondering what it would taste like if I added some cremini mushrooms, prociutto, garlic and my own spices to revamp a traditional dish.
2 tablespoons quality olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 thick slices domestic prosciutto, chopped into small pieces to equal 1 cup
1 (28oz.) can crushed tomatoes
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fine ground black pepper
8 tablespoons butter, divided
12 oz. fresh cremini mushrooms, cut in quarters
1/8 teaspoon crushed chili pepper flakes
½ cup quality vodka
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 ½ boxes penne pasta
¾ cup freshly grated parmesan reggiano cheese
1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the oil. Saute the onions for 5 minutes until golden. Add the garlic and prosciutto and cook for another 2 minutes. Next add the crushed tomatoes to the saucepan.
2. Stir in the oregano, basil and pepper and simmer for 1 hour.
3. In a skillet over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Saute the mushrooms and pepper flakes until the mushrooms are golden.
4. Take the skillet off the heat and slowly add the vodka, cooking on low for 5 minutes.
5. Add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer. When hot, pour the cream mixture into the tomato mixture and stir. Simmer the sauce to blend the flavors while cooking the pasta.
6. In a large pot add 6 quarts of water and Kosher salt. When rapidly boiling add the pasta and cook about 15 minutes. Drain very well other wise your sauce will be watery.
7. Melt the other 4 tablespoons of butter in a deep skillet. Pour in the pasta to glaze. Add the parmesan reggiano cheese and mix well. Stir in 1/3 of the sauce mixture. Top each plate with some additional sauce.