The 12 Minute Challenge: Penne alla Vodka

Yum-O!…I’m already sorry I said that. LIGHTEN UP, PEOPLE.

This delicious meal of penne alla vodka and spinach salad with caesar-ish dressing, pecorino cheese and proscuitto can be made in 12 minutes.

Can a post describing it be written in 12 minutes? It’s 10:06. Let’s go!

You know what night it is: American Idol night. I actually became angry at the judges when they were so harsh to Jason Castro. I officially have a problem.

Vodka sauce is a simple, smooth tomato sauce enriched with cream and spiced up with red pepper flakes. If you’re listening to me as closely as you should be, you are now keeping bottled tomato puree in your pantry for quick sauces. You may even have half a bottle left over from something else you’ve made. That half a bottle will produce a quick, delicious sauce for 4.*

It starts, as most good things do, with onions + garlic + olive oil + heat. Some crushed red pepper comes to the party – I have some habanero flakes, so I used a tiny pinch of those – along with the tomato puree and a third of a cup of heavy cream (another substance found in most good things). The sauce simmers while you cook the pasta and throw the salad together, with the vodka added at the last minute.


*4 normal people, 6 people who actually eat the recommended serving size of pasta, 2 people like me, or 1 Brian.

Prosciutto: The King of Pork

The salad was a total accident born of my failure to pay attention to any details whatsoever of the caesar dressing recipe I glanced at. (For example, had I actually read it through I would have realized that I didn’t actually have half the ingredients in the house. Go me.) The dressing is basically a lemon and olive oil base with some finely minced garlic and anchovy paste mixed in.

I decided to top the spinach with cheese and proscuitto because (1) the cheese is traditional to caesar, so at least I got something right, (2) proscuitto is delicious, (3) I can justify it by telling myself that the meal needed “protein”, and (4) it’s pork and cheese, do I seriously need a reason? Get off my back, harpies.


In the meantime, my pasta water hit a boil and I dumped in a hefty amount of salt and some artisinal penne; I also poured some vodka into my simmering sauce and lit it to produce a truly pathetic flame that did not reach above the lip of the saucepan. I drained the penne 2 minutes before the recommended cooking time and finished it right in the vodka sauce, which really allowed the flavor to penetrate the pasta. I plated things up all pretty-like and dinner was served.

And it was good. The sauce was creamy, quite spicy but with a sweet tomato kick. The sauce clung needily to the roughly textured artisinal pasta. The lemony dressing was great with some baby spinach, and the prosciutto added some nice salt and chew along with its miraculous sweetness.

10:18! 12 minutes. I am a fucking winner.

12-Minute Vodka Sauce
serves 4

2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
12 oz. bottled tomato puree
1/3 c. heavy cream
3 tbsp. vodka

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 4-5 minutes, until it begins to turn translucent; add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook a few minutes more. Stir in the tomatoes and cream and a pinch of salt and bring to a simmer.

Leave simmering while you cook the pasta. Just before you’re ready to use it, adjust the salt and pepper levels. Add the vodka; flaming isn’t necessary, but you can do it if you’d like.


36 thoughts on “The 12 Minute Challenge: Penne alla Vodka

  1. At least you didn’t say “EVOO.” That one is pretty lame too.

    I could have used this 12 minute meal for our after-little-league-game dinner tonight. Instead we picked up fish tacos for $1 fish taco Tuesday. I guess we were focused on cheap!

  2. Mmmmmm…pork and cheese…I’m drooling on my keyboard as we speak. And already thinking about dinner tonight (I too clearly have a problem).

  3. So if the Vogon ships are approaching and Ford Prefect tells you that that the world is going to end “Oh, in about 12 minutes,” you can whip up dinner (but you won’t have time to eat it).

    I’m such a geek.

    I timed reading the entry. It only took about 90 seconds.

    Heavy cream and prosciutto are almost essential for making a meal that tastes good, regardless of the preferences of Sir Pickypants.

  4. recipegirl: that’s funny, because i could have used $1 fish tacos instead of this meal.

    susan: i wanted to, and i usually have some pancetta in the freezer. but alas, not last night.

    heather: that’s because you’re a philistine.

    stephanie: thinking excessively about food is so clearly NOT a problem.

    marc: i don’t want to get your hopes up – we’re talking brief flicker like a one-hit wonder, not eternal flame.

    rachel: if the vogons were approaching, i could do it in 11.

  5. Looks great! There are only two things I’d change:

    1. The TV channel (I actually become angry at the judges if I can see and hear them).
    2. Use thinly sliced smoked ham instead of prociutto.

    I’m going to pretend that I didn’t notice the “Yum O”.

    (Found you via Southern Grace’s post about International No Diet Day)

  6. I gagged a little when I read “yum o”, sorry. lol….

    love vodka sauce. i agree with you, it’s a quick, perfect meal when you don’t have a lot of time. sometimes i throw in chicken to make it heartier.

  7. yeah, i am angry about the harshness to castro as well, but he’s gone. (i am guessing), which sucks cause i REALLY did like the Marley.

  8. elizabeth: although i love prok in all its forms, i don’t think i could ever go for smoked ham over proscuitto.

    dani: another thing i’d wanted to do, but all my chicken was frozen.

    courtney: me to, and i did. twice – once at dinner last night, and again today at lunch.

    candace: it was a JOKE people. making fun of she-who-shall-not-be-named and her 30 minute meals. because i think she sucks. GET IT?

    christey: yeah, but it seems like he wants out, so i’m happy to set him free. he was high as a fucking kite last night.

  9. thanks for visiting my blog. I enjoyed reading this post; loved the writing style and wit.

    the penne pasta looks really good. I didn’t think it was possible to make dinner in 12 but you’re good.

    Yum-o? um what’s next, EVOO? I was on the EVOO kick for a while until Oxford American College Dictionary coined the term. oh gawd

  10. jason castro is a douchebag!!!!!!! i hope you’re not a fan. he is a sweetheart though (god my husband would fucking kill me if he reads what i just wrote). you def. have problems!!!

    also, i can’t forgive you for your yum-o comment. thank god your kick-ass meal salvaged you!


  11. I’m guessing yum-o is some kind of RR vernacular, right? She doesn’t seem to have much of a presence here in NZ…which is good because her rubbery face freaks me out a little. Anyway back to what I was originally going to say which was that I LOVE Penne alla Vodka, so simple but so good, and yours looks amazing, as does the salad. Seriously delicious…

  12. You said Yum-O….

    Regardless, your meal looks delicious as usual. Salad looks way better than caesar anyway..but I tend to gravitate toward anything with a nice wad of prosciutto sitting next to it.

  13. Good Gawd, girl! 12 minutes? I might love you. I will, of course, have to quadruple the recipe for my ginormous family…or do I just quadruple the vodka? What? Nothing wrong with a little nip while we’re cooking! lol ;) :)

  14. You can only say Yum-O if you’re wearing pants that are 2 sizes too small, and you’re carrying a carload of ingredients in one arm and a “garbage bowl” in the other. (WHY on earth dirty another bowl? Use the freaking trash can!) Since I see no proof of you doing that, you are damn lucky you crossed out the Yum-O.

    Oh, dinner looks great!

  15. Yay! I love vodka sauce!! My favourite is with rigatoni, though- this restaurant back home made THE most kick ass rigatoni vodka and I still crave it.

    American Idol pisses me off. It’s good that he was voted off, though, because it’s obvious they didn’t want him on anymore since it was The David Show, so he might as well go home to his friends and family and be able to start recording his own stuff. Bastards.

    Also, that makes me happy that someone above referenced Douglas Adams. That is all.

  16. liberal: thanks for coming by – glad you like it here.

    melissa: yes, you must. i got mine from world spice merchants, and they are some potent shit.

    WANF: a douchebag? are you not looking into the same sparkly blue eyes as me?

    laura: it is, and yes, you’re lucky.

    rebecca: thanks! i was pretty impressive with myself, if i may.

    brittany: god damn it, people, it’s like you don’t know me at all! so i’m forced to cross it out, and i’m sorry i ever tried to be funny.

    canary: you quadruple the recipe, but octuple the vodka. heh heh…i said “octuple.”

    elle: for all you know, i LOVE wearing too-small pants.

    ley: but now he has to spend the summer suffering through the american idol tour, shudder. poor kid, he just wanted to strum his gee-tar and smoke a fat one, y’know?

  17. I just don’t get prociutto – or any salt-cured pork. Maybe I haven’t had a good one… Give me smoke-cured pork anytime though.

    Incidentally, I’m very impressed at you pulling this together in 12 minutes. What size are those penne? The penne we buy take 13 minutes to cook to al dente. And that’s AFTER the water has come to a boil.

    (I’m sorry to see that you felt you had to cave and cross out the “Yum O” when it was so clearly a joke.)

  18. elizabeth: they were pretty small, they took 8-9 minutes to cook.

    my favorite proscuitto is prosciutto san daniele. just try it once before giving up on prosciutto.

    kelly: that’s probably true, since it’s rarely NOT the time to have pasta alla vodka at the table.

    kevin: so true.

    claudia: as long as they’re not trying to sell me something, even robots can have their say in the comments.

    forkful: and that is a problem because?

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  20. Hi Michelle –

    I made this last night and it was awesome! It took me a little longer than 12 minutes, but I wasn’t in a hurry, and I am a slow cook. :)

    Thanks for sharing your recipe, it’s a keeper!


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