Tuesday, September 23, 2014


This is another one of those dishes from the cupboard that I like to revisit from time to time. 

Back in 1993, Patricia Wells' recipe for Penne with Vodka and Spicy Tomato-Cream Sauce (Penne alla Bettola) from her cookbook TRATTORIA was published in The New York Times.  Although it has been more than 20 years, I still have the tattered and stained article.  I kept it for memorabilia purposes.  All, or most, of those recipes from the past are now in the computer, but many of the original paper documents have been saved as well.

For this recipe most of the ingredients are always on-hand, with the exception of the light cream and fresh parsley, which is a quick stop at the market.  And with cooked frozen shrimps and king crab legs in the freezer, it was a very simple dish to make.

I've always made the vodka sauce separately and serve it over pasta instead of combining the sauce with the pasta as the recipe notes.  This way, extra sauce is always available for at least one-two days.  Since there is cream in the sauce, it will not freeze well.   

Also, I like to add shrimps and/or king crab legs as a protein.  The creaminess and touch of heat from the sauce is a great accompaniment to the subtle brininess of the shrimps and the sweetness of the crab.  Over the years, I've used uncooked shrimps where I peeled, deveined and added them at the end to cook in the sauce.  And more recently, I tried the frozen, pre-cooked shrimps where they just need to be thawed, drained and then warmed in the sauce at the end.  The king crab legs are already cooked and frozen, so thawing and steaming is the only prep needed for them.

Cooked, Frozen Shrimps

Steamed King Crab Legs

1/2 pound penne pasta
2 Tablespoons salt for penne
1/4 cup Olive Oil
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 tsp Pepperoncino or Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1 28 oz can Crushed Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Vodka
1/2 cup Light Cream
1/4 cup Parsley, Chopped
6-8 Shrimps (U 12/15)*
3 King Crab Legs, halved**

Add the penne to a large pot of salted water and cook until the penne are al dente.

While the penne is cooking, combine the oil, garlic, pepperoncino in a medium (4-quart) sauce pan.  Cook over moderate heat until the garlic turns golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes with their juices. Stir to blend and simmer, covered, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 15 minutes.  Add the vodka to the pan.  Separately, add about a tablespoon of the sauce to the light cream and stir the mixture slightly before adding the cream into the pan.  Let sauce cook for about 3-4 minutes.  Add the shrimps to cook/warm through.  Let sauce rest for about 5 minutes. 

Spoon the sauce and shrimps over cooked pasta and mix.  Place crab legs on top with a drizzle of more sauce.  Garnish with chopped parsley.  Serve immediately.

* If using uncooked shrimp, they should be peeled, deveined and then added to the sauce for the last 2-3 minutes of cooking.  If shrimps are already cooked and frozen, thaw them thoroughly, drain and add shrimps to the sauce to warm completely. 

**King Crab Legs that are cooked and frozen should be thawed completely, either overnight in the refrigerator, or placed in cold water that is changed every 20-30 minutes for about 1-2 hours (depending on the size of the crab legs).  Then the legs should be steamed for about 10 minutes.
Vodka Sauce with King Crab Legs and Shrimps over Penne

Served With Shrimps Over Black and Pink  Fettuccine; Circa 1998

1 comment:

Chris Carpenter said...

Patricia Wells definitely set the bar high for French cooking. I am glad you were able to keep a hard copy of this recipe. That said, your own rendition of Patricia’s recipe looks scrumptious as well! I’m sure she’ll be proud that her recipe has lived on, and now has different twists added to it. Thanks for sharing!

Chris Carpenter @ Domenico's Monterey