Penne alla vodka, the beginning of the end

Hello there. I’ve got something special to tell you. Did you know that next week will be my two hundred and fiftieth blog post? Aye aye, 250 recipes, tried and tested, photographed, coupled to an inane rant, and published here. It’s been five years that I’ve been doing this, pretty long eh? So I thought that it seemed like an opportune moment to call it a day. That’s right. The dictatorship is almost over.

For the small but loyal group of followers I have on this blog, I feel I should explain why I’m calling it quits. You see, five years is a long time to be doing something, and lately I’ve been thinking that maybe it would be nice to try something different. Of course a person can have more than one hobby, but the blog actually takes up quite a lot of time, even though it might not look like it does. (Sometimes, when I tell people I find it hard to keep up with the blog due to lack of time, they say “Ohh, surely not, how much time can it take?” I’m sure they mean it in an encouraging way, but I can’t help but find it a bit insulting.)

Mostly, the blog has been great fun over the past five years. It’s forced me to cook something new or interesting every week. It’s encouraged me to look around for new ideas. It’s allowed me to practice my writing skills in an environment where there’s no grades involved. Mostly, I’d say, it’s been enriching.

At the same time, however, it’s also become a limitation. Everything I eat is now judged on its blog-suitableness. Recipes that I may have wanted to try but that aren’t photogenic have been ignored in favour of their more glamorous-looking counterparts. If a recipe had no chance of making it to the blog, I often felt I could make better use of my time by cooking something else, and that’s been starting to bother me.

This decision hasn’t been easy for me to make. I’ve veered between quitting or continuing, and to be honest, I’m still not one hundred percent convinced. But I feel it’s like all those times I packed up all my shite and moved to another country. At first, you’re sad to leave all your friends and your favourite pub and the life you’ve constructed in your latest home town behind, but then when you arrive somewhere new, you recognise all the new opportunities that are suddenly available to you, which is also great!

Of course it would seem pretty poor to quit just like that, no warning or anything, so that is why I’m announcing this now. Next week is my 250th post, but I’m not one for even numbers, so we’ll do three more recipes, one today, one more next week and the one the week after, and finish on 251 posts. In proper goodbye party style, they’ll all be centred around booze! If you’ve been reading for a while (or if you know me in real life), you must know I’m an enthusiastic drinker, so I’m going to end on a cheerful, tipsy note. Moreover, we’re going to structure it like a proper dinner: a starter, a main, and a dessert.

This week, for our primo piatto, we’ll do penne alla vodka, an American classic, I think. There are various stories as to where, when and why this dish came about. Some of these involve Italians (1960s communist party Russia sympathisers from Bologna is one hypothesis), but I’m not really feeling it. You know what the Italians are like, they’re particular about what they let touch their pasta, so I’m pretty sure it must have been an American who invented this dish.

Penne and vodka seems like a weird kind of recipe, until you realise that it’s really a question of terrible naming: it should really be called “penne with tomato sauce and cream and also we put vodka in as an emulsifier to stop the cream from splitting”. That would have explained it all and I wouldn’t have spent years thinking the old yankees just poured vodka on their dinner.


For four people, use:

  • 400 gr penne
  • one 400 ml tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 150 ml of double cream
  • 4 shots of vodka
  • one dried chili
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic
  • some fresh basil
  • some grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
  • olive oil
  • salt

Get your water boiling with plenty of salt. You know, for later, when you’re ready to boil the pasta.

Chop your dried chili and gently fry it in some olive oil. Peel your garlic and with the ball of your hand, crush them slightly, so that they’re broken, but still more or less in one piece. Throw them in with the chili and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, some salt, some sugar if necessary, turn up the heat, and stirring, reduce the sauce a little bit.

Your water is boiling? Throw in the penne! They’ll probably need about ten minutes (check the bag!) and that’s just how much time you’ll need to finish the sauce.

Turn the heat under the tomatoes down to medium-low. Throw in four shot glasses of vodka, stir well, and leave it like this for at least five minutes. Stir occasionally, and make sure the sauce doesn’t boil, at this point it should just simmer quietly. When the pasta is close to done, add the cream to the sauce. Stir well, and leave to simmer for a couple of minutes.

Drain the pasta when it’s done, then add it to the sauce. Grate in some parmesan and stir in some roughly chopped basil. Mix well, then serve up with some more cheese on top. It’s weird, but nice!


This entry was posted in alcohol, Food, Italian, pasta, Vegetarian and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Penne alla vodka, the beginning of the end

  1. Joris says:

    I myself find one of these wonderful blogs a week an impressive achievement. Though I’m far from the benchmark for productivity and have trouble even keeping up with reading your blog.
    I’ll certainly miss it. Once I have read the backlog. And it sounds like I have a new excuse for vodka.


  2. Dave says:

    Congratulations on such an epic achievement Veerle. Always better to choose to leave rather than let it fade away as I have with mine. Enjoy the freedom to cook ugly food and eat it without your camera. Thanks, Dave


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