Recipe Review

Ina Garten Has a Clever Trick for Making the Best Vodka Sauce Ever

published Sep 22, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

On the first night of our honeymoon in Italy, my husband and I tucked into a little trattoria in Florence called Alla Vecchia Bettola. We ordered a fiasco of house wine and an endless array of dishes, but it was their penne alla Vecchia Bettola, a classic penne alla vodka, that left us swooning. It’s a meal I think about often, and so when I saw that Ina Garten had her own iteration of this special dish, I knew I had to try it immediately.

Ina’s version is twice removed. It comes from Nick and Toni’s restaurant in East Hampton, New York, whose version was inspired by the pasta at that little trattoria in Florence. Could it be as good as the bowls we licked clean on our trip? I headed to the kitchen to find out.

Get the recipe: Nick and Toni’s Penne alla Vecchia Bettola from Ina Garten

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

How to Make Ina Garten’s Penne all Vecchia Bettola

You’ll begin by sautéing chopped onion and garlic in olive oil, then you’ll add red pepper flakes and dried oregano. Next, pour in a cup of vodka and let the mixture simmer until it’s reduced by half. While it’s simmering, drain a couple of cans of whole peeled tomatoes.

Next, add the tomatoes to the pot, crushing them with your hands as you go. Cover the pot and transfer it to a 375°F oven to roast for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the pot from the oven, let it cool for 15 minutes, then transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until very smooth.

You’ll then return the smooth sauce to the pot, add fresh oregano and heavy cream, then simmer for 10 more minutes. Finally, stir in al dente pasta and grated Parmesan cheese and toss until the pasta is well-coated in the creamy sauce.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of Ina Garten’s Penne alla Vecchia Bettola

One bite of this pasta sauce took me straight back to that dinner in Italy. It’s deeply flavored, extra savory, and perfectly rich. Roasting the sauce in the oven is a brilliant trick that helps slowly draw out sweetness from the canned tomato, and made for a much more complex sauce than any of the others I tested. It’s heavy on the oregano, which I personally love because it brightens up the sauce and makes it unique. Add to that a good dose of red pepper flakes and just enough vodka and cream, and you’ve got a perfect vodka sauce.

While this recipe took the longest to make because of the roasting time, it was arguably the most hands-off, which was another win. Sure, it’s not quick enough for a busy weeknight, but this is a penne alla vodka that would wow at a dinner party and would be a treat for a quiet night in on a weekend.

Credit: Sheela Prakash

If You’re Making Ina Garten’s Penne alla Vecchia Bettola, a Few Tips

  1. Don’t bother draining the tomatoes. This was one fussy step I skipped and I am not upset I did. Choose good-quality canned tomatoes (I like Cento) and there is such little watery liquid in them that there’s really no need to drain them.
  2. Blend the sauce with an immersion blender, if you’d like. While Ina calls for transferring the sauce to a blender, I had no problem blending it right in the pot with an immersion blender. This made for one fewer dirty dish, too.
  3. You might need less cream than you think. Ina gives a range of 3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream, which she instructs to add enough of until the sauce is a creamy consistency. I found the sauce was already rich and creamy before even adding the cream, so I only added 1/2 cup and still found it plenty rich.

Overall rating: 10/10

Have you tried Ina Garten’s Penne alla Vecchia Bettola? Let us know in the comments.