Penne Alla Vodka Goes to Provence

Some days I get to wondering what would happen if a certain recipe went to a certain part of the globe. For example, what if my dad’s Penne alla Vodka recipe took a trip to Provence. It would probably encounter licorice-flavored fennel and juicy ripe tomatoes… and wine…it would definitely encounter wine. It would relax in the dry heat of Provence summers and splurge on some rich tasty meals- heavy cream laced meals, that is. It would pluck some fresh basil leaves from the herb garden and partake in salty, briny olives from the antipasto tray. They would have a family reunion and relish memories of how carby and creamy they all are. It would be glorious, wouldn’t it? Well, that’s what I did with this recipe. I added all the flavors of Provence to my favorite pasta dish, and it was delicious. Enjoy! 

Penne alla Vodka goes to Provence

Serves 4


  • 16 oz. box dried penne pasta
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 fennel bulbs, chopped small
  • 1 shallot, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 28 oz. can whole, peeled tomatoes, drained and diced (discard the drained liquid)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup black olives, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, cut in chiffonade
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes, for serving


  1. Cook penne according to package instructions, reserving ½ cup of starchy pasta water.
  2. Heat butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan over med-high heat. Sauté fennel for 15 minutes until softened. Lower the heat if the fennel is beginning to brown. Add the shallot and garlic, lower the heat to med-low and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes until almost no liquid remains in the pan. You want to see a bit of browning on the bottom of the pan. This creates great flavor!
  3. Add ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper along with the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the wine, raise the heat to med-high heat, and cook for two minutes, scraping up any browned bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan. Add the heavy cream and cook for 2 minutes, until thickened slightly. Remove from heat.

Now, you have choices to make- do you want to leave the sauce chunky or do you want to puree it slightly with an immersion blender or do you want it completely smooth by processing it in a food processor? The choice is entirely up to you. What is my preference you may ask? I’m Goldie Locks- I don’t like it too chunky or too smooth- because of that I use an immersion blender and thin out the sauce with a little starchy pasta cooking water. 

4. Using an immersion blender, puree sauce until it reaches desired consistency. Add reserved pasta water if the sauce needs to be thinned out a bit after pureeing. Once pureed, stir in olives and fresh basil. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper, if needed. Serve with Parmesan and red pepper flakes.

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