Pasta a la Vodka

Adapted fromĀ Emeril’s Potluck

The original title of this dish includes the word casserole, which for me conjures something out of a 70’s era kitchen made with canned cream of mushroom soup and topped with crunchy onions. You won’t get that in this dish, which is filled with very real, whole ingredients. This baked pasta dish is perfect for a cold winter night. It’s large, so invite some friends over to share it or freeze half for another time. I served it with a garlic ciabatta bread and the crowd went wild.

  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound sweet Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
  • 3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1-3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup good quality vodka
  • 1-28 oz. can whole tomatoes, crushed in juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 15 oz. part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • To make the sauce, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the turkey sausage, stirring frequently and breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon. After 5 to 6 minutes, it should no longer be pink. At this time, add the onions, 3/4 teaspoon salt and the black pepper. Cook until the onions are starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the basil and garlic and continue cooking another 2 minutes. Add the vodka and tomatoes, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Sauce should be bubbling gently and will begin to thicken a little bit. Add the thyme leaves, cream, and cayenne then simmer another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • To cook the pasta, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the water to prevent sticking. Cook the pasta according to package directions for al dente. Cooking time will depend on the shape of the pasta you are using (see tips below). Drain the pasta thoroughly and place it into a large bowl. Toss the hot pasta with half of the ricotta cheese, half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the sausage tomato mixture to the bowl and mix until well combined. Finally, add the remaining ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss.
  • Place the mixture into a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese. [Make ahead: Can be covered with foil and refrigerated overnight at this point. You may need to bake it another 5 to 10 minutes if it’s going right from the fridge to the oven.] Bake for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden and the sides are bubbly. Serve with a big green salad and crusty bread.
  • Quick Tips
  • 1. I’ve reduced the meat in this dish by half. The original recipe called for an additional pound of Italian sausage (hot). I’ve also used turkey sausage here, which is a bit lighter but still gives the desired flavors.
  • 2. I like Belvedere vodka. As long as you have it out, why not make yourself a gimlet?
  • 3. Since I made this for a crowd on a holiday, I threw all caution to the wind and used the heavy cream. If you prefer to lighten up the dish a touch, try using half-and-half or even whole milk instead.
  • 4. You can use any short pasta variety. I thought I had a full pound of penne but just before I threw it in the water, I discovered the box had been opened and I didn’t have a full pound. I used rigatoni instead and it worked out fine. Try fusilli, farfalle or even ziti in place of the penne.

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)

Cooking time: 1 hour(s) 50 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 8

2 responses to “Pasta a la Vodka”

  1. Pete says:

    Great recipe! Not a big deal but I missed where the pinch of cayenne is added to the recipe. Thanks!

    • Alicia says:

      Oops! You are absolutely right, Pete. Add it right after the cream. I just changed the recipe to reflect this good catch. Thanks!

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