Last night we had an incredibly fun-filled, intimate dinner party with one of our great couple friends. I knew we were going with an Italian theme but debated for a few days about what to make. I grabbed my trusty Everyday Italian cookbook – thank you, Giada de Laurentiis! – and scoured the pages. Classic Italian lasagna, while a delicious option, seemed time-consuming and a bit heavy. Veal bolognese was a good second option but you just never know how people respond to eating baby cow. In the end, I settled on a surefire group favorite: penne in vodka sauce with shrimp.
Penne vodka with shrimp
Giada has a delicious and super easy recipe for penne vodka. While the recipe doesn't call for shrimp, I adapted it to reflect one of our favorite dishes served at a local Italian joint. You just toss the shrimp with the sauce and pasta, throw on a handful of grated Parmesan and basil and go to town. I even attempt to make it "healthier" – if you can call a recipe with 1/2 cup heavy cream healthy – by using whole wheat penne. All in all it's a great dish for company, for two or an indulgent serving for one. Paired with an awesome Caesar salad (thank you, L!), Bryan's famous garlic bread and wonderful wines, it was a perfect evening. Not to mention a great excuse for setting our table with our favorite Italian plates!
An intimate dinner for four
Here's how you make the penne vodka with shrimp. My apologies for the lack of photos; drinking wine took priority over taking photos. :)
- 3 cups Marinara Sauce
- 1 cup vodka (I used Double White)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1 pound raw jumbo shrimp, shelled, deveined, and tails removed
- 1 box whole wheat penne pasta
- 1/2 cup basil chiffonade, for garnish
Make the vodka sauce: In a heavy, large skillet, simmer the marinara sauce and vodka over low heat, stirring often, until the mixture reduces by one fourth, about 20 minutes. Stir in the cream (make sure it's room temperature to avoid curdling) and continue to simmer over low heat until the sauce is heated through. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the Parmesan, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer sauce and vodka. Add cream and combine.
Mix all ingredients until fully combined.
Make the pasta: Fill a 3 quart pot with water. Add a generous pinch of salt, a drizzle of oil and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and stir occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking. Cook the pasta until it is al dente, about 8-9 minutes. Drain the water from the pasta and add pasta to the vodka sauce pan.
Cook the shrimp: In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, add shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Stirring occasionally, saute the shrimp until they start to curl and turn pink, about 5-7 minutes. Note: When fully cooked, the shrimp will not be translucent.
Assemble the dish: Add shrimp to skillet holding al dente penne and vodka sauce. Gently stir to combine all ingredients. Over low heat, cook for 2-3 minutes until sauce simmers and pasta starts to absorbs the sauce. Be careful not to overcook shrimp. Transfer to large serving bowl, top with grated Parmesan and basil.
Serve and enjoy!