ZENB Penne Pasta Alla Vodka — A Masterpiece for Busy Weeknights

By Chef Monti Carlo

Ah, penne alla vodka! It's a classic dish, a symphony of creamy tomato and fiery spirit, a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. But did you know that this seemingly decadent dish has a rather humble origin? It started showing up on restaurant menus in the 1980s as a way to use up leftover tomato sauce. Some say it was invented in Italy, others in New York City. Either way, vodka is a genius addition to tomato sauce. It lends a touch of magic — as it emulsifies the tomatoes and cream, helping to create an unparalleled velvety texture.
This is one of my go-to, weeknight easy meals because it comes together in about 20 minutes. Just boil delicious one-ingredient ZENB Penne Pasta then throw the sauce together, combine the two, garnish with fresh herbs, and voila! A weeknight masterpiece is born. I love to use traditional milk and Parmesan, but you can keep the whole thing vegan with your favorite plant-based milk and Parmesan cheese.
Ready to create a little culinary gem in your kitchen? Check out the recipe here, or see the full recipe below. Let’s do this!
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS 

  • 12 ounces ZENB Penne Pasta made from 100% Yellow Peas, uncooked
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup whole milk (or plant-based milk)
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided (or plant-based Parmesan)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Cook ZENB Pasta as directed on the package. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water; drain.

  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large Dutch oven or pot on medium heat. Add onion, garlic, salt, and crushed red pepper; cook for 5-7 minutes until translucent. Add tomato paste. Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently, until slightly darkened. Add 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water, milk, and vodka. Cook for 5-7 minutes while gently scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly until smooth and creamy.

  3. Remove the pot from heat; add the pasta and 1/4 cup Parmesan. Mix gently while stirring in the remaining reserved pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time, until well combined. Garnish with the remaining Parmesan and parsley before serving.

TASTY TIPS 

Add cooked chicken, shrimp, or sausage for a protein boost.


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