It may not look like much and my photo does not do it justice but, this simple pasta dish sneaks up to "wow" your tastebuds. Penne a la Vodka with Shrimp and Chicken is my version of an Italian favorite found on the menu of every pizza joint and Italian restaurant in New Jersey where Italian food is king. Count the number of restaurants in any Jersey town and more than half of them will have "Pizza", "Ristorante", or "Trattoria" in their names and Penne with Vodka Sauce on the menu.
One of my Italian clients requested this entree last week along with 2 other meals. Being of Polish descent with not an ounce of Italian blood in my body, I channeled my inner Giada (with a little less of a plunging neckline as I am partial to turtlenecks) to replicate an authentic version of Penne with Vodka Sauce. A request for the addition of shrimp and chicken made this a complete one dish meal.
I adapted a recipe of Lidia Bastianich therefore, I felt I had a good base sauce with which to start. The sauce comes together in about the same time as it takes to cook the pasta resulting not only in a quick dinner but a mighty tasty one too. I paired the rich tomato sauce laced with vodka, garlic, and Parmesan cheese with a whole wheat penne. I am not usually a fan of whole wheat pasta but, this sauce held its own with the hearty penne. Feel free to use regular pasta if you would like.
Along with a Caesar salad with homemade croutons and dressing and cheesy garlic bread, dinner was waiting in my client's refrigerator when they returned home. I will making the same dinner for my family and then they will have a personal chef too.
Penne a la Vodka with Shrimp and Chicken
adapted from a Lidia Bastianich recipe in her cookbook Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen
3/4 pound whole wheat penne
1 pound chicken tenders, cut in bite-sized pieces
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
dash of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup vodka
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled
1/2 cup light cream
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and add the penne and cook for 9 - 11 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 10 - 15 minutes or until just cooked through. Remove from oven and set aside.
While the penne and the chicken are cooking, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the both cans of tomatoes and bring sauce to a boil. Season with salt and the red pepper flakes. Boil for 2 - 3 minutes. Pour in the vodka and simmer for about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, take out the garlic and add the shrimp. Continue cooking the sauce until the shrimp are just cooked through, about 3 - 5 minutes.
Add the cream, butter and chicken and stir to combine. Place the pasta in a large serving dish and add the sauce and the Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine and add more salt and red pepper flakes if desired. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese.