I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of using alcohol in cooking. Whether it be with making ribs, clams, chicken cacciatore, or even just battered fish, I’ve always thought that it gives those dishes an additional flavor profile that’s different and something that you can’t get normally. This past summer, I had the opportunity to have some Penne with Vodka Sauce from a fairly nice Italian restaurant back at home, and I’ve been wanting to recreate it for quite some time. Tonight was the night.
Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce
Serves 4 – 6 people.
~ 4 slices bacon or panchetta
~ 1 pound box of pasta (I used rigatoni)
~ 4 cloves garlic
~ 1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
~ 1/2 cup vodka
~ 1/2 cup heavy cream
~ 2 tsp sugar
~ Salt and pepper
~ Italian seasoning
~ Garlic powder
Begin by cutting up the bacon into smaller chunks, setting them aside, and then putting the minced garlic into the same pan as well. In a large skillet, throw the bacon and the garlic into there, and start letting them cook up on medium to medium-high heat. You want to get the bacon ideally into the zone where it starts to become crispy and then turn down the heat to medium-low. Drain off all of the excess fat that has released from the bacon into another bowl. Now, here is where the fun part begins.
There are two ways to get alcohol out of the liquor you’re using during cooking: either you burn it off or you cook it out. In my case, I decided to use both, using 1/4 cup of the vodka the first time to get some nice flavor onto the bacon and garlic, and the second time added straight into the sauce. Pour that 1/4 cup of vodka right into the pan, and then proceed to light that on fire to burn away the alcohol. Here is a cooking demonstration video, videotaped by my roommate Jason with his superb video capturing skills.
Warning: Keep a skillet cover next to the stove just in case you need to put the fire out quickly. There is a level of danger associated with this cooking technique.
I’ve done that only once before quite a while back, but it was cool to see the technique in action again. With all of the initial alcohol from the vodka burned off, add in the can of crushed tomatoes and stir things up. Continue to add the salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and sugar, tasting after the addition of each spice to ensure it’s at the right level of how you want the sauce to taste. When you feel like you’ve gotten it to the perfect point, add in the remaining 1/4 cup of vodka as well as the 1/2 cup of heavy cream into the sauce. The cream should cause it to get nice and thick, and the vodka will give it that additional depth of flavor that is characteristic of a vodka sauce dish. Simmer the sauce mixture on medium-low for an additional 15-20 minutes.
At this point, the vodka sauce is all done. Go ahead and prepare the pasta of your choice that you would like to serve it over. We used rigatoni, since we definitely have quite a bit of that sitting in our pantry at the apartment. When the pasta is finished, drain off any of the excess water and put all of the pasta right into the sauce, stirring it all together and mixing it to ensure that all of the pasta gets coated with the vodka sauce.
This dish is really hearty and amazingly filling; the two heaping platefuls of the pasta I had can attest to that. It actually turned out better than I expected it to, mostly because of how close I was able to mirror the taste of the Penne with Vodka Sauce I had over the summer. Overall, it was definitely a really fun dish to make and something I would gladly try again.