Penne alla Vodka

source: Cooks Illustrated via The Curvy Carrot

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ small onion, minced (about ¼ cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
¼ to ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
½ tsp table salt
¼ to ⅓ cup vodka
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup reserved pasta liquid (if needed)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Kosher salt
8oz dry pasta

Puree half of the tomatoes in a food processor until smooth. Dice the remaining tomatoes into ½-inch pieces, discarding cores. Combine the pureed and diced tomatoes in a liquid measuring cup (you should have about 1⅔ cups). Add reserved tomato liquid to equal 2 cups. (I needed about an extra ½ cup of the tomato liquid - keep the extra liquid on the side in case you need to add it later.)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are light golden around the edges, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the tomatoes and the salt. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vodka. Return the pan to medium-high heat and simmer briskly until the alcohol flavor is cooked off, 8 to 10 minutes; stir frequently and lower the heat to medium if the simmering becomes too vigorous. (If the sauce becomes too thick too quickly, add some of the reserved tomato liquid.) Stir in the cream and cook until hot, about 1 minute. (Take care not to overheat the cream or the sauce will break apart.)

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large stockpot over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon Kosher salt and the pasta. Cook until just shy of al dente, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss over medium heat until the pasta absorbs some of the sauce, 1 to 2 minutes, adding reserved pasta water if sauce is too thick. Stir in the basil and adjust the seasoning with salt. Divide among pasta bowls and serve immediately.

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