Penne Alla Vodka

Another beloved Italian-American Classic, this basic dish will rival anything you might get at your local red-and-white checkered tablecloth joint and comes together in about 30 minutes. Pancetta, prosciutto or even bacon in a pinch – or any of your favorite porcine ingredients – elevate this dish to the next level, but it still tastes great without them.

Ingredients:

  1. 1 lb penne rigate, cooked 2 minutes shy of package directions (it will finish in the sauce)
  2. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  3. 1 lb pancetta or bacon, sliced into lardons (if using bacon, blanch in boiling water for 10 minutes to remove smokey flavor which will overpower the tomato sauce).
  4. 1 medium white onion, or 4 good sized shallots, or a combination thereof, to total about 1-1.5 cups, finely diced
  5. 5-7 cloves garlic, minced
  6. 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes (or to taste) OR 1 teaspoon Aleppo chili flakes
  7. Umami Bomb: 1 tablespoon each of the following: Miso Paste, Tomato paste, Anchovy Paste, Roasted Garlic Paste (if you don’t have them all, 3 of any will do just fine)
  8. 1/3 cup vodka
  9. 1 28 oz can plum tomatoes, hand crushed or pureéd in the can using an immersion blender
  10. 1 large sprig fresh basil
  11. 1/4 cup heavy cream or Mexican crema (Mexican crema adds a tangy, subtle bite and unlike sour cream it can safely be brought to a boil).

Mise en Place

  1. Bring 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil. If skipping step 3 (below), salt aggressively.
  2. Slice pancetta/bacon into lardons. If using bacon, bacon, blanch the bacon in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and pat very dry
  3. Bring another 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil and salt aggressively (skip this step if you didn’t blanch your bacon)
  4. Dice onions and shallots and reserve in a medium bowl
  5. Mince garlic; reserve in a small bowl
  6. Measure out chili flakes, add to bowl with garlic
  7. Mash Umami Bomb (ingredients in #5, above) together in a small bowl and reserve
  8. Measure out vodka and set aside
  9. Open can of tomatoes; crush by hand and reserve in a large bowl or purreé in the can using an immersion blender
  10. Pick Basil
  11. Measure out heavy cream/crema

Instructions

  1. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add pancetta/bacon lardons and fry until fairly crispy and golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve, leaving the fat behind in the pan.
  2. Add onions and shallots and sauté until translucent but not browned, 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and chili flakes and sauté until very fragrant, stirring constantly, 15 seconds.
  4. Add Umami Bomb and stir to incorporate, another 15 seconds
  5. Add Vodka and flambé. (Alternatively, add vodka and reduce – skipping the flambé will result in a boozier sauce).
  6. As soon as all the flames are out, add tomatoes and stir everything well to incorporate. Fill 28 oz can half way with water and slosh around to loosen any leftover tomatoes. Add water to pan and bring to a boil
  7. Reduce heat to a simmer, add basil sprig. Allow sauce to reduce to nearly desired consistency 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally
  8. When sauce is almost reduced, add cream and stir to incorporate; continue to reduce to desired consistency
  9. Add cooked pasta to sauce. Continue to stir until pasta is fully cooked and sauce is sticking to it – 3-5 minutes.
  10. Serve with Parmesan cheese and enjoy.

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