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Penne With Vodka Pumpkin Sauce

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“A recipe presented at the 7th annual Kohler Food & Wine Experience (October, 2007) by chef Leah Caplan of The Washington Island Hotel, Restaurant & Culinary School - Washington Island, Wisconsin. A very comforting seasonal pasta dish!”
1hr 15mins

Ingredients Nutrition

  • 1 lb penne pasta
  • 2 cups leeks, thinly sliced-white and light green parts only
  • 14 cup virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, whole peeled
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 12 cup vodka (Chef Caplan used "Death's Door Vodka")
  • 14 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups winter squash, peeled, seeded and diced (butternut, red kuri, Long Island cheese, kabocha, or blue hubbard)
  • 5 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary or 2 teaspoons sage, minced
  • 1 12 cups fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
  • stravecchio cheese, grated (Chef Caplan used Antigo Stravecchio, but you may substitute other fine aged local artisanal cheese)


  1. In a large sauce pot, combine leeks, olive oil, garlic, and sea salt.
  2. Cook over medium heat until leeks are very tender and translucent and garlic is soft enough to be easily mashed with a wooden spoon (reduce heat if necessary - do NOT brown!) This will take about 10-15 minutes.
  3. Turn heat to high and add the vodka and crushed red pepper flakes.
  4. Reduce the vodka until there is just a thin layer of liquid in the pan and a nice aroma in the air.
  5. Add the squash (the smaller the dice, the quicker it will cook), the water, and rosemary or sage.
  6. Simmer 10-20 minutes, adding water if necessary until the squash is soft enough to mash with a wooden spoon or potato masher to create a slightly chunky sauce.
  7. In the meantime, cook 1 pound dried penne pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until almost tender.
  8. Scoop the pasta into the sauce pot, adding some of the pasta cooking liquid as needed to maintain the sauce consistency.
  9. Season with drizzled olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
  10. Stir in the diced mozzarella.
  11. Serve with grated Stravecchio cheese.

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