Are you a seafood lover? In our humble view, our version is one of the best Penne alla Vodka with Salmon recipes we’ve ever enjoyed. And it is sooooo quick and easy to make! You can whip it up in the time it takes the pasta to cook. While Penne alla Vodka allegedly has its origins in the 1970’s discothèques of Italy, it’s not extremely well known in Italy today. That said, if an Italian has heard of Pasta alla Vodka, it usually involves salmon!
There is no ‘traditional’ way to make this pasta dish, however we assure you that ours is absolutely amazing! Penne alla Vodka with Salmon (as opposed more tomato-heavy versions of the dish) allegedly made its debut in the 1980’s Italian disco scene. In fact, our Nonna Lulu—who was fond of going out dancing during this period—confirms this was the ‘it’ dish for a midnight snack after a night of partying.
Or, Try Penne alla Vodka with Pancetta
Or, check out our other Penne alla Vodka recipe with pancetta which takes inspiration from the Roman Spaghetti Amatriciana pasta recipe. There, guanciale and onions are used to flavor the tomato sauce.
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Penne alla Vodka: 2 WAYS!
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What does the vodka do in vodka pasta sauce?
Some sources erroneously claim that the alcohol in vodka acts as an emulsifier to help the watery tomato and fatty cream blend into a creamy sauce. However, vodka is not an emulsifier.
What the alcohol in the vodka does do is help to release aromas and flavors in the tomato and other ingredients that are not otherwise perceptible to the palate. And mamma mia… does it deliver!
In common Italian salmon and vodka pasta recipes, the sauce is usually a light pink. We’ve chosen to add a hint of concentrated tomato paste to our sauce. This gives the vodka some tomato flavor to elevate, but doesn’t bring along the water that tomato sauce adds. Since as we said, vodka is not an emulsifier, reducing the amount of water we are mixing with the heavy cream in the dish helps to create a creamy sauce less prone to separation.
How to Make Penne alla Vodka with Salmon
This vodka pasta sauce really comes together quickly, so put your penne on to cook in salted, boiling water while you prepare the sauce. Always cook pasta to al dente as they do in Italy!
Make the Sauce
We start by sautéing minced shallots in butter.
When the shallots are translucent, in goes the smoked salmon—cut into rough pieces.
We toss the salmon in the buttery shallots, then deglaze everything with the vodka.
…And then we immediately add the tomato paste and heavy cream and mix. The pieces of salmon will break up into flakes as you stir—that’s what we want! What we love about this recipe is that the vodka sauce really tastes of salmon. Some recipes for Penne alla Vodka with Salmon are basically nothing more than a sauce of heavy cream and vodka with some chunks of salmon.
Instead, our vodka sauce is truly infused with that amazing smoked salmon flavor. Cook the sauce on medium until it has reduced to the desired thickness. We look for a bechamel consistency—the sauce should nicely coat the back of a spoon.
Finish with Penne and Top with Chives
Add the drained penne to the pan with the vodka sauce with salmon, along with a half a ladle of pasta water if the sauce has thickened too much while awaiting the penne.
Give everything a good mix. Below, Flavia Diamante is tossing the pasta with the sauce in the pan to do the mantecatura like an Italian pro 😉
Top with minced chives—we highly recommend you to top with chives as they are soooo good here! Buon appetito 🙂
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Penne alla Vodka with Salmon (Smoked) —1980’s Disco Vodka Pasta Recipe
- 1 Large Pot for cooking the pasta
- 1 large pan or skillet
- 7 oz smoked salmon chopped into bite-size pieces
- 2 tsp concentrated tomato paste
- 1 ⅓ cup heavy cream
- 2 shallots or ½ small onion; minced
- 3 tbsp butter
- 2 shots vodka
- 11 oz penne
- Add penne to salted, boiling water and cook to 'al dente' according to the package instructions. In the meantime…11 oz penne
- Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.3 tbsp butter
- Add the minced shallots and sauté until tender.2 shallots
- Combine the smoked salmon with the onions and stir briefly.7 oz smoked salmon
- Add the vodka to deglaze the pan…2 shots vodka
- … Followed immediately by the tomato paste and the heavy cream.2 tsp concentrated tomato paste, 1 ⅓ cup heavy cream
- Stir to mix and reduce the sauce until it coats the back of a spoon.
- The consistency should look like this.
- Add the cooked, drained pasta to the vodka sauce and mix to combine. Add a ½ ladle of pasta water if the sauce is too thick.
- Top with minced chives and serve!
- Buon appetito 🙂