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Why am I still single if I can make this sumptuous, irresistible tomato sauce?  Let me explain. Years ago, a friend gave me the recipe for Rachael Ray’s “You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Sauce,” which promises that if you make her sauce for a guy, he’s sure to pop the question.  Um, still waiting. Then I went to Nick & Toni’s in NYC and had their version, called Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola, and after discovering the recipe online, I am now convinced I will land a prince.  A gorgeous, food-loving, Jewish prince at that!  It’s that good, and the best vodka sauce I’ve ever had, hands down.

If you can’t get to Nick & Toni’s, make it at home. (Thank you, Barefoot Contessa!) While it needs to bake in the oven for an hour and a half and yes, there’s a heck of a lot of cream, its comforting aromas and super-concentrated spicy/sweet flavor will more than make up for the extra calories and cooking time.  This is the third of my three-part “Best Tomato Sauce Ever” posts, yet it might be the first thing I’ll note if I ever join Match.com. (“Or J-Date!” my mother just screamed.)

Nick & Toni’s Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola

Adapted from Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa

  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled plum tomatoes (San Marzano are best)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 pound penne pasta
  • 4 tablespoons fresh oregano
  • 3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream (Feel free to use half ‘n half for a slightly less rich taste)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus a little more for presentation

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Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large oven-proof saute pan over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook for 1 minute more. Add the vodka and continue cooking until the mixture is reduced by half.  Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes through a sieve and crush them into the pan with your hands. Add 2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and place it in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente. Drain and set aside.

Place the tomato mixture in a blender and puree in batches until the sauce is a smooth consistency. Return to the pan.  Reheat the sauce, add 2 tablespoons fresh oregano and enough cream to make the sauce a creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and simmer for 10 minutes. Toss the pasta into the sauce and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Serve with an additional sprinkle of Parmesan and a sprinkle of fresh oregano on each plate.  Good luck!

Serves 4-5

(small photos courtesy of Alexandracooks.com – a great foodie website)