I love pasta. I could eat it every day. Mom rarely cooked it with bacon, though. I know most of you have probably seen a take on this dish on many menus in Italian restaurants, but Penne Alla Vodka (more specifically, the Vodka Sauce itself) is not a traditional Italian dish and, yes, does often contain bacon or pancetta (fancy Italian bacon). Although not traditional, this is still absolutely delicious.

Now, for those of you playing the home game, you might stand up and say, “Vodka (or at least good vodka) doesn’t have any flavour. Why the heck would you put it in anything?” To this I would respond, “Great observation!” But here comes the explanation from the Master’s degree in Chemistry I’m currently working on: water is essentially the only liquid contained within a sauce. When you simmer a sauce, the water can only bring out certain flavours from the tomatoes and herbs. Adding vodka, more specifically ethanol (the alcohol in vodka and all other alcoholic beverages) allows for the extraction of many other flavours into the sauce without adding a flavour of its own. Wine would perform the same function, but wine adds its own flavours, as well. Now, if I only had some BACON vodka.

I decided to use tortellini because it’s an opportunity to easily add flavour to the dish. Oliveiri makes a delectable selection of tortellini – I took the three cheese option. I think it will best fit the rest of the dish.

Ingredients

8 strips Maple Leaf Bacon

2 Small Onions

4 cloves Garlic

1 28oz can San Marzano Tomatoes

1 cup Tomato Puree

4 tbsp Fresh Oregano

¼ cup Vodka

½ cup Table Cream

2 tbsp Butter

1 package Olivieri Three Cheese Tortellini

Parimigiano Reggiano to top

Salt to taste

Directions

1. Let’s start off with the good stuff. Cut bacon into half inch pieces. While you’re at it, mince your garlic and get a rough dice going on your onion.

2. In large sauce pot, fry the bacon until it’s just about crispy. Add your onions and garlic and fry those up until the onions have gone soft, translucent and sweet.

3. Now you have some choice here. Since you’ve chosen some good quality whole Italian tomatoes (not the crushed or ground canned tomatoes), you can either a) crush them by hand, or b) pulse them in a blender a couple times. If you want a chunkier sauce, crush the tomatoes by hand. If you want a smoother sauce, use the blender. When I’m making a basic tomato sauce I like it chunkier, but because I’m going to be adding some cream to this later, I want a smoother texture. I decided on option b).

Also, if you choose to use the blender on your tomatoes, be gentle. Just pulse them a couple times. If you aerate the tomatoes (they’ll turn pink), they will taste quite acidic.

4. Carefully add your tomatoes and tomato puree into the pot. You don’t want it to splash up and burn your pretty face! Season with oregano and salt and add vodka and give everything a good stir.

Quick Thought: I explained above that the vodka will bring out flavours in the tomatoes and herbs. You could try leaving your oregano in your ¼ cup of vodka for a few hours (or days!) before adding it to the sauce to really bring out some special essences!

5. Bring the sauce back up to a boil then turn down the heat such that the sauce is just at a simmer. Simmer for at least 20 minutes. Remember: the longer the better.

6. Just before you’re ready to cook your pasta, add your butter and cream to the tomato sauce.

7. Since you’re now ready to cook your pasta, boil it according to package instructions.

8. Strain your pasta and add it back into your pot. Pour some of the finished sauce over to coat and serve with plenty of extra sauce. Don’t forget to add some Parmigiano!

9. Done – Prest0!