What do you do when you're out of vodka? Make penne alla rum. It's a tasty alternative to the classic penne and vodka sauce recipe with tomatoes, basil, and cream.
Several years ago, I made my Italian grandfather a pasta dinner for his birthday. I brought all of the ingredients over to his house: tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil, oregano, parmesan, and quite a few other items for dessert.
From the start, I could tell that he thought I was crazy. I was making tomato sauce from fresh ingredients in just an hour. He insisted that I needed to cook the sauce for hours, as his mother used to do. But I kept cooking anyway. I thought I might surprise him and prove that a good sauce could be made in a short amount of time.
Well, I was wrong. He didn’t like the sauce. He questioned the basil - the “green things,” as he called them. He let me know the consistency was all wrong. And then, he asked my grandmother to heat him a jar of Prego sauce instead. I was angry. He was a difficult guy to make happy, and I should have known better.
At least there were no complaints about the homemade ice cream sundae for dessert.
After that meal, I asked that he make me a pot of his mother’s sauce so I could see how it was done. Or even better, show me how to make it myself, because he claimed her recipe was never written down.
cook and eat what you like. life is too short.
From then on, I stuck to making him desserts and pickles, which were easier to please with my grandfather. Although he passed away earlier this year, I can’t help but think of him whenever I make tomato sauce. I don't care that he would disapprove of how I do it. That’s okay. He had the things he liked. Was he stuck in his ways? Yeah. But we all are that way, to some extent. Although he never showed me how to make his mother's sauce, I have since come across the recipe. Turns out it does exist.
Surprisingly, he did enjoy reading my food column in the paper when I brought him copies. I say that’s a surprise because I tend to write about trying new recipes and methods for cooking, even if they’re not always the standard way of doing things. Take, for instance, the sauce recipe I have for you here. While my grandfather would hate it, there are plenty of reasons for you to give it a chance.
For starters, it uses up some fresh tomatoes that you may have piling up as the growing season winds down. I pulled the last of my tomatoes out of the garden this weekend and this was a nice way to get through a few more of them without canning or freezing. If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, diced ones from a can work just fine.
I don’t believe fast equates to poor quality or means you have to settle for something less – if that were the case, you might as well open a jar of sauce from the store. You can still use high-quality ingredients and not have to spend hours cooking them.
But why a penne alla rum sauce?
The thing about this sauce that might make you as skeptical as my grandfather is that it uses rum instead of vodka. Initially, that wasn't my plan. I intended to make penne alla vodka for dinner the other night. But it wasn't until I went to grab the bottle of vodka from the liquor cabinet that I realized there wasn't one. I then debated whether to use gin or rum in its place, because at that point I wasn't heading out to the store. Obviously, I went with the rum and I don't regret it.
My girlfriend, who loves vodka sauce and was the one who asked that I make some in the first place, thought that the white rum worked great. And honestly, I don’t think anyone would be able to tell the difference in the end. Who cares that penne alla rum isn't a thing as long as it still tastes good?
The origins of the original dish, penne alla vodka are up for debate. It could have come from a restaurant in Bologna, Italy. Or perhaps Moscow. Maybe here in America. Is it authentic Italian? Unclear. It's not unlike other Italian dishes. People at least seem to agree it became popular in the 1980s.
Whether you use vodka or rum in the sauce, the purpose is the same. The alcohol enhances and melds the other flavors of the sauce. The alcohol shouldn't stand out on its own. If you’ve only ever had vodka sauce, who knows, maybe you’ll be surprised by this recipe. Honestly, I was too. Now, we almost always intentionally use rum in place of vodka.Print