Time and again I find myself shaking my head, mostly amused, but more often bemused by what increasingly appears to be an almost illimitable quest for convenience by a public that just won’t take the time to cook even the simplest food.

I wrote-and railed-on this topic a couple of years ago in an article about precooked bacon that illustrated, in no uncertain terms, my true feelings on this matter, and I still find it hard to digest (so to speak) the very idea that anyone would pay a premium for something that’s so easy to prepare. Pre-cooked bacon indeed.

Perhaps not as extreme, but nonetheless perplexing, was the hand-printed sign I saw the other day in the window of one of my favorite Italian grocery stores advertising “Vodka Sauce For Pasta.” And once again I found myself shaking my head.

Pasta with vodka, or more properly, “penne alla vodka,” is a dish that originated in Italy in the early 1970s and immediately became the rage among young trendy Italians who were just discovering the joys of this relatively “new” spirit called vodka. Back in the States, just about anything Italian was the rage during those years, and by the mid ’70s, Americans, too, had become entranced by this novel notion of adding vodka to tomato sauce. How well I remember the accolades that greeted this simple dish the first time I served it at Philander’s.

And simple it is. You don’t need a lot of time or space to make it, and with only a few ingredients you can have this mouthwatering dish on your table in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Numerous variations have been added since this non-traditional Italian specialty was introduced, and many have laid claim to its historical origin, as recent as that is. Some say the dish should include pancetta or prosciutto, or Italian sausage, sweet or hot. Some insist on browning whole or slightly crushed cloves of garlic, and some add chopped Italian parsley.

All well and good, but here’s the way it was first presented back in the ’70s, and it’s the way I make it still. All from scratch in mere minutes. What could be more convenient?

Penne Vodka

1 pound penne (or mostaccioli)

5 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil

teaspoon red pepper flakes

2/3 cup vodka (Russian or Polish preferred)

1 28 ounce can whole plum tomatoes

cup heavy (whipping) cream

teaspoon salt

cup grated Parmesan cheese

For the penne, bring at least 4 quarts of water to a boil

Add 1 heaping tablespoon of salt

Add the penne and cook al dente

Meanwhile, pour the tomatoes and their liquid in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse with the on/off switch just until they are finely chopped

Melt the butter or heat the olive oil in a 12″ skillet over moderate heat

Add the red pepper flakes and vodka and simmer for 2 minutes

Add the chopped tomatoes and cream and simmer until the penne is ready

When the penne is cooked, drain it in a colander and add it to the sauce

Add the grated Parmesan cheese, mix well and serve piping hot with good Italian bread

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Frank Chlumsky

Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander's restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts. In his 37-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan...