Baked Penne Alla Vodka

Story by Natalie
Baked Penne Alla Vodka
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My husband and I have never been ones to go all out on Valentine’s day. I don’t like feeling forced into romance with the one I love. Fortunately, my husband feels the same way. Of course we find (or more like steal) time away to invest in and celebrate our love. However, on the so-called “love” holiday, we forgo the traditional trappings of flowers, jewelry, reservations and chocolate (don't get me wrong, I’ll take ALL those things anytime, they just feel a little forced on the 14th).  Before you begin rolling your eyes too much at my counter-culture ways, let me reassure you that I do celebrate it!...for my kids.


We believe in going to the source, so I called up my real-deal Italian friend from upstate New York who shared her tips on the best vodka sauce...

Baked Penne Alla Vodka

You see, I’m still trying to win them over. Yep. Every. Single. Day. Their little impressionable ears and eyes seem to be stalking my every move and soaking up my every word. If you aren’t a parent you might be thinking “that’s a bit dramatic,” but it is seriously true. And so, once in awhile, I try to make a big deal out of silly little things like Valentine’s Day, because to my children, those things aren't so little. They're actually quite magical.

Last year, Holly and I threw a surprise breakfast party for our kids the week leading up to Valentine’s day and they still remember it. This week, we've spent time making cards together for others, while allowing them to over-indulge in conversation hearts (watching them giggle when I read them “U R CUTE” is just the best). I’m only allowing myself to brag about some of the fun things we've done in an effort to convince myself that they miraculously make up for the countless average days that seem a blur. As I sat cutting out paper hearts and chomping on heart candy, I got to thinking about all the effort I have put out for them in the past I started to feel guilty about all the missed opportunities I’ve had to make the same sort of impact on my husband.

Baked Penne Alla Vodka

We are workaholics, perfectionists, social athletes and parents. We have a fixer upper and are addicted to starting new projects (without finishing the old ones). This level of insanity, which I’m sure many of you can relate to, equates to a lot of chaotic days in the lives of Scot and Natalie Mortimer. So, I decided that to send the kids off the the grandparents (hallelujah!). And in true Mortimer fashion there will be no gifts, no balloons and probably not even lipstick or high heels. No. I think the greatest gift I could give my husband (and really our marriage) is quiet, uninterrupted time alone with some freaking good food and a bottle of wine. That's real love, right?

Holly and I crafted this recipe with the idea that perhaps we are not the only ones planning to stay in this year to make a delicious meal with our loved ones (be it a spouse, friends or your children) and thought you might all appreciate a little “Valentine’s Night In-spiration (I'm super impressed with myself for coming up with that). This dish meets our standards for the perfect night in; 1. easy 2. comforting 3. cheesy 4. delicious (duh!). After all, nothing says “I love you” like a great Italian dish. We believe in going to the source, so I called up my real-deal Italian friend from upstate New York who shared her tips on the best vodka sauce (some of her exact words were words were “...or you can crush the tomatoes with your hands like a real Italian Grandma” ...yes, yes I will do that!) and we crafted this baked version of the classic pasta dish. Needless to say, we are quite pleased with the result, and think you will be, too.

Baked Penne Alla Vodka

Currently, we don't have a comments section on TMP, but if we did I’d be asking all of you lovely readers about your Valentine’s plans. If you’re headed for a swanky night out, more power to you! But, if just maybe you're staying in, make the most of it. Cook something great (like this pasta, of course) and take a moment to pause and celebrate the love in your life...and then count your blessings that you get to do it from the comfort of home…in your sweatpants…like me.

Baked Penne Alla Vodka

Baked Penne Alla Vodka

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 lb mild Italian sausage, casings removed
1/2 cup red onion, small dice
2 large garlic cloves smashed
1/2 lb pancetta or prosciutto, diced
1/2 cup vodka
2 (28 oz) cans San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups parmesan-reggiano, grated
3 cups Italian (lacinato) kale roughly chopped
1 cup flat leaf parsley, stems removed, roughly chopped, divided
1 lb large penne pasta
1 cup water
2 fresh mozzarella balls, 4 oz each, sliced

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. In a large pot over medium heat cook the sausage until crumbly but not cooked all the way through. Add the onion, garlic and pancetta or prosciutto. Cook for 5 minutes until pancetta is crispy, onions are translucent and garlic is fragrant. 
  3. Add the vodka and the tomatoes, crushing them by hand as you put them in the pot. Simmer for 10-15 minutes to burn off the alcohol and cook down the tomatoes. 
  4. Add the salt, pepper flakes, heavy cream and 1 ½ cups of the parmesan-reggiano. Simmer another 5 minutes until nice and creamy.
  5. Add the chopped kale, ½ cup parsley and dried penne to the pot and toss to coat. 
  6. Transfer pasta mixture to a lined baking dish add the cup of water to the pasta mixture and press as much dry pasta down into the liquid as possible. Cover and place in the preheated oven.(If the pot you are using is capable of going in the oven, then just add the cup of water over the top, press as much dry pasta down into the liquid as possible, cover with a lid and place in the preheated oven.)
  7. Bake pasta dish covered for 40-45 minutes. Remove dish from the oven, take off the lid and place the sliced mozzarella onto the baked pasta. Place uncovered back in the oven for 10-15 minutes longer until the mozzarella is bubbly and browned in spots. Sprinkle with remaining chopped parsley and a few red chili flakes.