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Weekends are the perfect time to cook something that requires awhile in the oven, because then you have a perfect excuse to sit on the couch while the oven does the work for you.  It’s GENIUS.

This is a fabulous, flavorful way to make penne.  The long cooking time allows the tomato flavor to sweeten and intensify, and the vodka gives a tang that offsets the richness of the heavy cream.

Oh, and there’s heavy cream in it (see above).  Do you need to know more?

I love meat-free meals, and this pasta alone would CERTAINLY fit that bill.  However, for people who enjoy a lean protein with their meal, this sweet, mild pasta sauce goes fabulously with spicy, smoky blackened chicken.  Embrace the duality of the flavors!

This method is simple and foolproof and will impress foodies and picky eaters alike.  You’ll love it!

Here’s what you need:

  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 chili pepper or 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • vodka
  • 1 large can whole tomatoes
  • heavy cream
  • penne pasta (I cook a whole box and use about 3/4 of the cooked pasta)
  • salt
First, turn the oven to 350F, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil to medium in a LARGE pan with a lid, and dice the onion.
Toss the onion in the pan (it’s fine if the oil isn’t very hot yet), and add your pepper.  I had a whole fresno pepper, so I cut it in half and took out HALF the seeds (so it wouldn’t be too spicy), and sliced the whole thing up into pretty half rings.
Once you’ve added the pepper to the onions, peel and mince the garlic.
Add the garlic to the pan with a sprinkle of salt, and stir it all together.
Let the vegetables cook for about 2 minutes until they are softened and fragrant but not brown.  Git yer oregano.
I have this ground stuff, but you could use dried leaves or 1 fresh sprig chopped up.  Whatever! Add the oregano to the pan and stir for one more minute.
Yep, no boxed wine up in here today. Pour in 3/4 cup vodka, and try not to light anything on fire…
See how bubbly it is?  Yum.  Now grab some tomatoes!
While the vodka reduces, crush the tomatoes by hand into the pan, and ADD THE JUICES.  I like some big pieces of tomato in this, but if you like smooth sauce you can break them up really small or even use crushed tomatoes.
This takes a few minutes, so turn the heat down if you need to – we only want the vodka to reduce by half, and we don’t want the tomatoes to splatter all over the place!
Once all the tomatoes are added in, add another sprinkle of salt, and stick the whole thing with a lid in the oven!
Time for the couch!  Walk away (or, if you’re me, clean the splattered tomato off the floor, stove, walls, dog, and boyfriend) for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, check to see how the sauce is doing.  It should be bubbly and thick but not dry.  If it’s starting to get dry, take it out of the oven.  If there is still lots of liquid stick it back in the oven and start your pasta in very salty water.
When the pasta is 2 minutes away from being done, take the sauce out and look how beautiful it is.
See the black bits?  YES.  We want that, but not too many.  Turn off the stove, and put the sauce over low heat on the stovetop.
While the pasta is finishing, add lots of pasta water to the sauce – you want it to be a little thinner than you’d like to eat, since you’ll keep simmering it on the stovetop for a few minutes as you add the cream.   I added about 1 cup pasta water, one spoonful at a time.
When the sauce is incorporated with the pasta water and the pasta is cooked, drain it, saving one more cup of water if you think you might need it.
Now, the moment has come to add 1/2 (or more!) cup cream to the sauce.
That’s heaven.  Now, stir in the pasta – use 3/4 first, and if there is tons of sauce add the rest.
I’m sorry, but that is really really delicious.  Taste it, and, without eating the whole pan, add more salt if you need to.
Then, grate some parmesan.
I serve this with sliced chicken when I’m feeding a crowd, but it is SO good alone, the chicken isn’t really necessary.  What IS necessary, however, is garlic bread.  The heavy cream and parmesan need some butter to round out the meal, right?
Please make this soon, you won’t regret it ever.
Happy Friday!
Note: You can make the sauce a few days ahead of time up to the point that it comes out of the oven and keep it in the fridge.  Then, when you’re ready to serve put the sauce on the stove, add pasta water and cream, and go to town.  
Another Note: I got the idea for this recipe from a Barefoot Contessa recipe, which you can find here.  I’ve changed and simplified the method quite a bit, but check out the original!
Last Note: If you double or triple the recipe, add to the oven time by about 15-25 minutes, or turn the oven to 375F and cook for 45 minutes.