Monday, March 15, 2010

Sunday Night Dinner: Penne alla Vodka with Chicken!

Now that I am home for spring break, I have much more time to cook and spend time with family.  Naturally, my father suggested incorporating the two because he loves it when I make a home-cooked meal for everyone!  So, I invited my grandparents over (they live across town) and we all had dinner together.

What did this special occasion call for?  A hearty, delicious meal, of course.  Which means... pasta!!  Pasta is such a great thing to make when you have to cook for a large group of people because it goes a long way and, when made in bulk, is usually pretty cheap.  Since this was our first get-together in two months, though, I decided to go all out with a homemade pasta sauce.  The Pioneer Woman (my go-to gal when I need a great recipe!) gave me this pasta alla vodka recipe, to which I added chicken and made Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken!  There were a few bumps along the road, which are duly noted in the step-by-step.

If you have a special occasion coming up and want something super yummy, try out this recipe...

Note: I made a double batch of this because we had a lot of hungry people, but I'll post the recipe for a regular batch.

What you'll need:
  • 1 lb. penne (or your favorite pasta) 
  • 1 med. onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup vodka
  • 1 can tomato puree (28 oz)
  • 3/4 to 1 lb. chicken, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Black pepper
  • 1 to 1.5 cups grated parmesean cheese
How to make it:

1) Heat some olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan or pot.  Add onion and garlic; cook for about two minutes, stirring occasionally.

2) Pour in the vodka and be careful not to let the steam clear out your nose, like it did to me.  This is very important: cook for about three minutes but make sure that the vodka is cooked out of the onions and garlic well.  I did not cook the alcohol out enough, and I think it made my dish more bitter.

3) Add in tomato puree, stir, and reduce heat to low.

4) Start cooking your penne now, according to package directions.  When it is done, drain well; you'll be adding it to the sauce.

5) In another pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat.  Season chicken with salt and pepper and saute until cooked through.  When it is done, drain the juice and set chicken aside.

6) Now it's time to add the cream to the sauce!  While stirring, add 1 cup half-and-half to the sauce mixture so that it turns a light pink/orange color.  Also very important: add in enough salt to balance out the tomatoes and vodka.  My sauce suffered from lack of salt - don't let it happen to you!

7) Add the drained pasta and chicken into the sauce and stir to combine. Stir in parmesean cheese (the more, the better, in my opinion!)

8) You're all set to serve.  Ree suggests that if your pasta is a little too thick, add a little pasta water in to thin it out.  It would have been helpful for me to tell you this when you drained the pasta, huh?

Recipe review:

As I mentioned earlier, I had a few setbacks with my penne alla vodka.  I don't think that the vodka cooked out right, and I had to add in some extra half-and-half because it was a little bitter.  Then, I didn't add enough salt.  So, I suggest that you learn from my mistakes and take these precautions!  I will say that I have found out that when this pasta sauce is lacking, just add more cheese.  I added tons and tons and tons of cheese.

(I am guilty of cheese gluttony.  But you'll never figure out where my hometown is to charge me on that.)

Also, I will note that Ree's recipe caused for the use of butter instead of olive oil and heavy cream instead of half-and-half.  I chickened out and used two healthier-but-still-bad-for-you substitutes.  It's up to you!

Overall, I'll bet the recipe was an A-plus recipe, but as a first time maker of vodka sauce, I had a couple of slip-ups.  My version?  Maybe a C-plus.  I'll keep working on it.

For next time...

Well, you already heard my ut-oh's, so I won't state them again here.  I also apologize for no photos this time; I got a little behind in schedule and completely forgot!  I am making one very special recipe later this week that I know you all will love, and I swear to you all that I will have pictures to accompany the recipe.

What's your favorite family dinner?  And more importantly... where did you go this spring break??


  1. Courtney- On behalf of the whole family we absolutely love it when you are home and pamper us with good cooking!!! Love, Mom

  2. If only the recipe had actually turned out the way I planned... It was Dad's fault for buying the cheap vodka.