I have no fewer than six recipes for penne alla vodka in various parts of my kitchen. Each one has some technique or ingredient that sets it apart from the others, but all of them are somehow lacking; not enough vodka, too much vodka (I know, I'm as surprised as you are that it's possible), too sweet, wrong consistency. As this is one of my favorite dishes, I've had plenty of opportunity to experiment, and create my own version, an amalgam of the other recipes. This is, I believe, the first time I've written it down.
Penne alla vodka
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz. prosciutto, diced (optional)
1/2 cup vodka (don't be afraid to use good stuff; maybe not your $60 bottle of Stoli Elit, but for pity's sake don't use the gasoline in the plastic bottles)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 28-once can crushed tomatoes (or a 35-ounce can of whole tomatoes, with juice, run through a food mill)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper
1/2 cup half-and-half (heavy cream is better if you want to go all out)
4-6 basil leaves, torn into pieces (or 1 teaspoon dried basil)
1 pound penne or other tubular pasta
1/2 cup (or more) finely grated parmesan cheese
heat the oil over medium heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot (preferably large enough to hold the pasta and the sauce, but I guess it's not necessary). Add the shallot and cook until it begins to soften, about two minutes. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic and shallot become fragrant, about one minute more. Add the prosciutto, stir, and add the vodka and crushed red pepper. Allow the vodka to simmer for several minutes before stirring in the tomatoes, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer, and let the sauce cook for at least twenty minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in 4-6 quarts of boiling salted water. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup or so of the liquid.
Stir the half-and-half and basil into the sauce, and return to a simmer. Turn off the heat, and stir in the pasta and parmesan, plus cooking liquid if the pasta is dry. Serve with crusty bread, a nice romaine salad, and the rest of the vodka.