Penne with Vodka Sauce

It was early in our relationship when I told Whitney that penne with vodka sauce was one of my favorite pasta dishes, and soon after we tried this recipe from her Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast: Pasta cookbook. It was a success, so we stayed together and got engaged eventually. I was surprised to see that this wasn't on the blog, but at our last two houses we ordered this dish often enough from Pulcinella's (they make a very good "penne with pink sauce") that I guess we weren't so motivated to make it ourselves. For some reason we haven't been ordering from there at the new place, which gave us the opportunity to make this again and finally put it on the blog!

4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbs. vodka
2 Tbs. slivered fresh basil
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tsp. plus 2 Tbs. salt
1 lb. penne or other tubular pasta
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. In a large fry pan over medium-low heat, melt the butter with the cream. In a small bowl, dissolve the tomato paste in the vodka. Stir into the cream mixture. Add the basil and red pepper flakes. Season with the 1 tsp. salt. Cook until most of the alcohol has evaporated and the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the 2 Tbs. salt and the pasta to the boiling water. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce and warm briefly over low heat to blend the flavors. Add the cheese and toss to combine. Add as much of the reserved cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce and serve. Serves 4.

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