Penne Vodka with Shrimp (w/ wine pairings)

Penne Vodka with Shrimp

The other day I was sitting in my car in the grocery store parking lot trying to figure out what I wanted to make for dinner. I wanted to go in with an idea so I didn’t just wander aimlessly forever… I’ve been eating a ton of chicken and pork lately, so those were definitely out of the picture. I was in the mood for seafood, but not fish, more along the lines of shellfish. A number of ideas bounced around in my head like shrimp etouffée, frutta di mare, seafood gumbo… Then I remembered that a while back one of you had asked for a Penne Vodka recipe on my Facebook page. I used to make Penne Vodka all the time when I was younger but probably haven’t made it in at least 10 years, possibly longer. And just like that I was suddenly craving Penne Vodka with Shrimp. Perfecto!

Serves 6-8

2lb Penne Pasta
1lb Shrimp, peeled & deveined
1/3lb Pancetta, chopped
3 Cloves of Garlic, chopped
1 Shallot Bulb, chopped
1/2c Scallion, chopped (plus more for garnish)
2tsp Salt, (2) 1tsp portions
1tsp Ground Black Pepper
1c Vodka
28oz Diced Canned Tomatoes w/ juice
1c Tomato Sauce
3/4c Chicken Stock
4c Heavy Cream
2tbsp Unsalted Butter
1c Grated Parmesan Cheese

In a large pot melt the butter at medium heat, then add the pancetta, garlic and shallot along with 1tsp of salt. Cook until the pancetta is lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Increase the heat to high and add the vodka, simmer until it’s reduced by half. Add the diced tomatoes with juice, tomato sauce, chicken stock, heavy cream, and 1tsp each of salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring periodically.

Boil your pasta in salted water for 2 minutes less than specified on the pasta’s cooking instructions. Strain the pasta and add it to the sauce, along with the shrimp. Simmer uncovered on medium-low for an additional 5 minutes, stirring periodically.

Add the grated parmesan and 1/2c of chopped scallion and stir well.

That’s it, you’re pretty much done! Just plate it up and garnish with a little more chopped scallion. Wasn’t that easy???

Now let’s talk wine pairings… This dish is actually a little tricky. At face value most people would immediate think “I’m having a big plate of pasta, so I’ll have a big red!” But that won’t work. If you do a monster red wine you’re going to completely overwhelm the subtle flavors of the shrimp. I do recommend going with a red wine, but it needs to be something that is light to medium bodied so you can still taste and enjoy the shrimp. Furthermore, it needs to have at least a little acidity to cut through the richness of the cream sauce… I would lean towards varietals like Barbera, Montepulciano, Mayolet, Grenache Gris or Grignolino. Or you could even do a full bodied Rose! Here are a few wines that I would recommend.

Cantalupo Il Mimo Rosato, Piemonte, Italy – Cantalupo was established by the Arluno family back in 1969, but they had been producing wine from their vineyards in and around the village of Ghemme for centuries. Their Il Mimo Rosato is a rose of Nebbiolo sourced from three of their vineyards in Colline Novaresi. After the clusters are pressed the juice is kept on the skins overnight to gain color and density, then is drained off for fermentation and aging in stainless tanks. In the glass you’ll find a surprisingly dark, full bodied rose. The bouquet is redolent with aromas of ripe strawberry, dried cherries, rose petal and crushed dried herbs. On the palate the wine is moderately dense, with expressive notes of fruits and herbs mirroring the bouquet, all framed by subtle acidity and surprisingly tannic grip. This rose may not be ideal for someone who prefers softer, ethereal wines, but it’s the perfect rose for a person that is typically a red wine drinker. It is also one of the few roses I’ve come across that improves with a little age. PP Score: 89 (Retail $12-14)

Bedrock Wine Co. Grenache Gris Gibson Ranch, McDowell Valley, California – I’ve written about Bedrock Wine Co. a number of times before, and you can safely bet I’ll be writing about them a number of times in the future. Morgan Twain Peterson is, in my not-so-humble opinion, one of the top winemakers of this generation. And I don’t just mean from California, I mean one of the top winemakers… Period. His specialty is old vine Zinfandels and field blends, but when he was offered a couple of tons of grapes by the current owner of Gibson Ranch, Jake Bilbro, he couldn’t pass it up. Grenache Gris is a varietal that is largely unknown, but there are a handful of producers now working with small quantities of it out of California. It is a wonderful grape best suited for full bodied roses or lighter bodied reds. Morgan’s take was to make what he terms a “summer red”… Think Cru Beaujolais and you’re in the right ballpark. In the glass is a medium bodied wine of ruby red color. It’s quite fragrant, with aromas of cherry, black pepper, clove and slightly smokey cedar box. On the palate the wine is explosive, with notes of dried cherry, ripe bramble fruit and moderate peppery spice, along with nuances of fennel and dried herbs, balanced by equal doses of acidity and fine tannins, with a long, lingering, spicy finish. Spectacular. PP Score: 92 (Retail $21-24)

Forteto della Luja Le Grive Monferrato Rosso, Piemonte, Italy – Forteto della Luja is a small family run winery that was established in the Loazzolo DOC in 1826, located between Monferrato and the village of Asti. While my review will not be this brief, one word could suffice to describe their wines. Beautiful. From their Moscatos to their Barberas and beyond, every single wine they make is absolutely beautiful. The estate’s flagship wine is their Le Grive, a blend of Barbera and Pinot Noir from the ampitheater shaped Le Grive vineyard, named as such for the thrushes that take up residence there during the winter to feast on the juniper bushes that surround the valley. I’ve consumed many, many, many wines in my life, but this is one of the few that have ever left me speechless. In the glass you’ll find a medium bodied wine of garnet hue. Once the wine has a chance to breathe the bouquet comes alive with aromas of cherry, juniper, dried sage and hints of crushed violet. On the palate the wine is simultaneously complex and simple… There are various layers and nuances, but they all come together in such  perfect harmony that you don’t necessarily realize how complex it truly is. The prevalent notes are black cherries, dark plum and hints of ripe raspberry, with subtle nuances of dried herbs, rose petal, vanilla and pantry spice, all brought together by moderate acidity and soft tannins. The wine is not easily found as production is small and distribution is limited, but if you do find it don’t just get one bottle, buy the whole case. I strongly recommend decanting this for at least two hours prior to drinking. PP Score: 96 (Retail $28-34) *certified organic

Well, there you have it, my Penne Vodka recipe and some absolutely stunning wines to pair with it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read, and I certainly hope you’ll try the recipe and the wines! And trust me, if you come across Forteto della Luja’s Le Grive buy as much as you can! And then send me a bottle as thanks for introducing you to it… lol. As always new content is en route. In the meantime crack open a bottle of something spectacular, sit back and relax. Life is short, enjoy it!


Published by Derek Martin

Husband, dad, home cook, wine snob... lover of bacon. I have spent my entire adult life surrounded by fine food and fine wines, starting with fifteen years working at, or running, some of New Jersey's top restaurants, and now the last two years working for one of the top fine wine distributors in the United States. I have absorbed a ton of information on food, wine, pairings and techniques during those seventeen years, and I'd love to share what I've learned with you!

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