Friday, June 5, 2009

Penne Pasta with Vodka Sauce - Alcohol Will Make You and this Sauce More Interesting

Vodka sauce is a very interesting recipe for the simple fact that vodka doesn’t really have a flavor, yet when a small amount is added to a tomato sauce such interesting things happen.

If you believe such respected foodologists as Alton Brown, there are flavor compounds in tomatoes that are only liberated by alcohol, but is that really it? Is it possible there are things that happen when we combine certain ingredient
s that we simply don't understand, and never will?

This is a fairly typical vodka sauce recipe with one main exception – I use bacon instead of the traditional Italian pancetta. In case you don't know, pancetta and bacon are very similar, except pancetta is not smoked.

In this recipe I enjoy the subtle smokiness the bacon brings and I believe it adds a little extra richness to the dish, which allows me to dial back the cream content. I'm not a big fan of the cream-laden, pale-pink vodka sauces you see sometimes.

One thing with this penne recipe that may seem odd is that I don’t add garlic. There's some garlic in the marinara sauce I use, but I don’t add additional minced garlic at the beginning, as one would assume I might. I just like the taste of this sauce without that "extra" flavor. I can’t really explain why, other than to say just because.

If you've never made this before and want some delicious homework, I suggest trying a version with bacon and then one with the classic pancetta. I'd love to hear what you think of the differences. Enjoy!



Ingredients:
1 14.5-oz box Barilla multigrain penne pasta
1 tbsp olive oil
4 oz chopped bacon or pancetta
1/2 cup vodka
1 small spring fresh rosemary, whole
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 cups prepared tomato/pasta sauce
3/4 cup water
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

71 comments:

Attila said...

The vodka combination does look very interesting! Could you use tinned diced tomatoes instead of the prepared tomato/pasta sauce?
If not, is prepared tomated/pasta sauce the same as bolognese sauce?

Ninette said...

Hi, I saw your reference at Ravenous Couple and came on over. Wow, look how many recipes you've put up. And you add video too? That's amazing. Glad to now know about you.

skuffen said...

Well, it can't really be the alcohol, can it? I believe that the alcohol is already gone, when you introduce the tomatosauce to the pan..

Other than that, I will of course have to make it my self - to see the difference! Thanks for the recipe, awesome as allways.

Chef John said...

welcome and enjoy!

Anonymous said...

That looks delicious. I don't drink vodka either and I know next to nothing about it. Do I need to use a good one for this sauce? Or will anything do?

Chef John said...

Any cheap brand will do. They do sell small bottles.

Anonymous said...

"just like people" LOL. On another note, i LOVE penne pasta, its my favorite, so, i will DEFINETELY try this recipe...tomorrow!!thank you!

Anonymous said...

I am a bit lactose intolerant, could I substitute the cream with anything else? I can handle lactose but I preffer avoiding it. Help!!

Anonymous said...

Oh, oh, oh. I want it now. NOW!

Chef John said...

yes, the booze boils out.

you can omit the cream and its still pretty tasty.

Sky Peace said...

Vodka fairy hasn't visited me for a while.

Chef John said...

hard liquor fairies are very unreliable

Anonymous said...

hi, would bacardi suffice for a substitute ?

Chef John said...

rum? no.

Ringo said...

Perfect day for a vodka-based recipe. Today is the official 25th anniversary of the creation of Tetris!

The greatest drink from Russia used to celebrate the greatest entertainment from Russia.

Anonymous said...

thanks for your reply!! i really appreciate what you are doing, especially people like me, who love to cook! kudos to you and thank you very much!

Anonymous said...

the initial taste of the vodka sauce i made tastes plain, but the tang is great.. the thing is.. i used old penchetta and i think that the smell of the bacon is VERY crucial to the INITIAL taste.
is that statement correct?

Chef John said...

not sure what you mean by old pancetta? was it bad? did it smell? Yes the aroma of bacon is important. Did you drink some of the vodka?

ghanima said...

@ Anonymous (the lactose intolerant one):

I find that you can substitute a soy creamer for many recipes which call for cream (not this one, 'though -- boiling makes it curdle). When that doesn't work out, a fatty coconut milk does boil well, but adds a coconut flavour to things a lot of the time (which I usually welcome any way).

Radian1978 said...

Made the recipe tonight... it was a hit! My wife did comment that the bacon wasn't cooked enough. Then again, she'll normally only eat bacon if it breaks. I loved the creaminess in the sauce.

Gil said...

Dear Chef John,
I LOVE your blog! I think it is great!
2 quick questions:

1) How would you do it vegetarian (i.e what would you replace the bacon with?)
2)How do you prepare the "prepared" tomato sauce?
Thanks
Once again, you rule!

Chef John said...

Not to be a smartass, but there is no veggie sub for bacon. If there was everyone would be a vegetarian. Prepared sauce just means a nice jar of pasta sauce from the store. I haven't showed my top secret red sauce yet.

Shreela said...

Well for some odd reason, Vimeo isn't loading for me -- it used to behave just fine. I turned off my various Firefox thingees and reloaded just to be sure, but it wouldn't load them either.

It pretends to load, but is empty and won't play.

Meanwhile, I'll just add 1/4 c of vodka and cream to my smaller amount of pasta sauce the next time I make some, because you intrigued me with how alcohol supposedly does something magical to tomato sauce. Oh yea, and of course bacon, mmmm 8^)

Chef John said...

Vimeo was down yesterday for a while. Remember, all these videos are on Youtube under "Foodwishes"

aishuhuhuz said...

i cant use alcohol, so is there something else to substitute the vodka with?

Chef John said...

no, just omit

Chef John said...

no, just omit

ladywolf said...

I want to make this for dinner, but my family does not like the pasta sauces mixed in, they prefer to put it on themselves. Will it still have the same taste or is part of the standing time important?

Chef John said...

time to show them tough love and forces them to eat it mixed! ;-)

Do they like mac and cheese? I bet they do, and I'm sure you don't serve a separate cheese sauce do you? Same thing!

You can serve on the side, but not nearly as good. Besides, you must train them before they grow up and have to find spouses, this mat be a deal breaker in some cases.

ladywolf said...

LOL, I love the way you think. Going to do this one, another question is do you ever add another meat or substitute say ground chicken or burger for the bacon? I am just wondering if this might not be a good setting for meatballs also.

Chef John said...

sure you can do it with any meat.

Trevor said...

Hey Chef,

I tried it tonight (but used Sake instead because I didn't want to have to buy a whole bottle of vodka) and it turned out great! I have plenty of leftovers for my dad and sis, too.

Here's a photo of the outcome:
http://imgur.com/t1mRe.jpg

Thanks again,
Trevor

Chef John said...

nice!

jason b said...

Hey John. This recipe was really good but the sauce was a little thick for me. Any pointers for next time? (This is the vegemite guy btw)

Chef John said...

just add a splash of pasta water next time

Anonymous said...

Darn! I used all my vodka to make vanilla extract - now I'll have to go visit the liquor store again since the vodka fairy has not yet visited me - but that reminds me - as I was rumaging around in the beer fridge freezer last night, a new bottle of Barcardi fell off the top and hit me on the shoulder! No one in the house knows where it came from - so there may be some truth to the hard liquor fairy story! I'll have to train her to bring tequilla next time.

Chef John said...

lol

Yubi Shines said...

Hm. I think I just learned how important the bacon was to this sauce. I had to make it vegetarian since there literally wasn't any meat in the house that wasn't frozen (not even breakfast ham). While the sauce -smells- great, it doesn't taste of... anything. I have no idea how I managed this.

Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you...

Anonymous said...

Hi Chef John,
are there any substitute for the rosemary?

Chef John said...

nothing tastes like rosemary, but you can try other dried Italian herbs, but get some rosemary. You can use some fresh, it's probably growing somewhere nearby.

Anonymous said...

I made this a few weeks ago. It was AMAZING. I absolutely loved it! Thanks for posting this recipe, vodka sauce is my favorite.

-Jessie

Anonymous said...

thanks for all the recipes chef! made the vodka sauce last night, deeeeeeeelicious! also been making other recipes from the site and as a newbie cook, everything is easy, yummy and simple to follow!

Anonymous said...

Would u recommend adding any type of meat to the sauce?

And I love your site. Thank you so much.

Chef John said...

i prefer it with just the bacon.

Elliot said...

Hi John,

Thanks as always for the wonderful site.
Do you know how long it takes for the vodka to be reduced to two or so tablespoons?

I found that b/c of all the bacon fat in the pan, it was difficult to see how much of the vodka I cooked down. My final product lacked a bit of that tang so perhaps the 2-3 minutes I waited before adding the cream was too long?

Thanks!
Elliot

Chef John said...

that wouldnt affect the flavor. Maybe just need to be seasoned more?

lilian85 said...

Hi, I'm deciding to make this recipe as I bet the cream adds a distinct and wonderful flavour to an 'ordinary' regular bolognese sauce. Plus the bacon sounds like heaven. I'm just wondering can I substitute the vodka with pork stock instead and use 3/4 cup pork stock instead of 3/4 cup water to enhance the flavour? I'm thinking i'll probably add less salt for the seasoning or none at all since pork stock can already be salty and I don't really want to buy a bottle of vodka. Or would it be better to just omit the vodka completely and not replace it with the stock? If its ok to use stock do u think i'll be better off with beef or pork stock? I thought maybe pork might go hand in hand with the bacon. Hope you can reply asap as I'm quite anxious (not to mention excited) to try this recipe out.

Btw, I made a lot of your recipes and watched many of your videos and I found most of them to be scrumptious. The first I tried was your roast chicken (I combined the two recipes with ur julia child's roast chicken) and caramel chicken (the recipe that statesand my whole family loved it. I'm next going to try your mac and cheese and your chocolate lava cake recipes which sounds really delightful. Keep up the good work!!!

Chef John said...

there is no substitute for the vodka. It's what gives the unique favor. You can buy one of those little tiny bottles maybe.

lilian85 said...

Thanks for replying. So it's better to just omit the vodka then? I live in Sydney...hope I can find a cheap small bottle of vodka. Will it still taste ok? And how about replacing the 3/4cup water with 3/4 cup pork stock instead?

Btw, what pasta sauce are you using? I saw your earlier video on meat sauce and you said ur using Barilla. Is that good? I'm quite fond of Leggo's brand...have you tried that brand before? Sorry to bug you with so many questions...I'm the kind of person who really checks to make sure every ingredient that goes into the recipe tastes great. Thanks if you can reply soon.

Chef John said...

Cheap vodka is OK for this sauce. Never tried, but stock is usually ok to replace water with. I use Barilla when i use canned, never tried Leggos. Good luck!

lilian85 said...

Hi again, I made the recipe tonight and it turned out really well even though I omitted the vodka. Since I am a university student I couldn't really afford to buy the vodka and there were no small bottles available at the supermarket today. Nevertheless my whole family loved it!

I made some changes such as adding 1 bulb of garlic (I'm a garlic freak) and 4 shallots after browning the bacon. I also added a few extra sprigs of rosemary and increased the bacon to 1 pound. I used pork stock instead of water and I used Leggo's bolognese sauce with red wine. I think the red wine helped a little in adding a touch of alcohol to the recipe. In the last 5 minutes I stirred in 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese and this really added to the richness of the sauce. Thanks Chef John, this recipe is definitely for keeps! Looking forward to more delicious recipes!

Jesse said...

Making this for dinner tonight and checked a couple other penne ala vodka recipes online... some do the tomato sauce before the heavy cream. Does the order matter?

Chef John said...

not really. put it in when it feels right.

Jesse said...

[cue rimshot]

Anonymous said...

Can the sauce be frozen for later use?

Chef John said...

Yes it can!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I made this the other day and the bacon flavor was too strong I think... should I wipe some of the bacon grease out before adding the vodka?
Thanks for your videos I'm addicted to this blog!

Chef John said...

Yes. Or just use less. Thanks!!

Barb said...

I've just discovered your site, which is brilliant and great fun--I was completely gripped by the discussion of Cornell chicken, which I'd never heard of. Anyway, I have heard of penne alla vodka, as it's the first dish I learned to cook while living in Rome in the 1980s (the man I bought pancetta from gave me the recipe). Pancetta does come smoked as well as unsmoked, and I definitely prefer it smoked for this dish. The recipe I have also calls for fresh basil scattered over at the end, no rosemary--and a sprinkling of chilli flakes at final seasoning. I was puzzled by the use of water in the sauce--why? Otherwise, though, very nice to be reminded of something I haven't cooked for yonks. I'm now going to check out your chili recipes...

BTW, an excellent cooking site by an Umbrian/Sicilian cook/B&B owner near Assisi is http://madonnadelpiatto.com/. It's in English.

Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

What is the yield of this recipe?

Chef John said...

four decent portions

Anonymous said...

what an awesome, awesome recipe that is, thank you very much!
tried it tonight, perfect results

Kristin said...

I had a sudden and intense craving for pasta today and remembered seeing this recipe. I didn't have prepared sauce but home-jarred tomatoes, onions, garlic, and mushrooms with some dried oregano stood in nicely. After simmering I hit the sauce with a blending stick to smooth out the chunks a bit before adding the cream. I used GF linguine made from rice, potato, and soy which worked great. I served it with simply pounded and sauteed turkey cutlets (with more of the sauce, of course.) It was so good I broke my discipline of no seconds and polished off a second portion. Salad for dinner, I guess. Thanks for another great recipe, Chef!

Anonymous said...

Mille grazie a Chef Giovanni!

pink said...

you said that there is no substitute for bacon?we use tofu,good sub. for meat,could i use it on this dish?im going to cook this dish on our school presentation,food trades student,big help thanks!!!

pink said...

we use tofu for substituting meat. i'll use your recipe in my school presentation,culinary student,big help thanks!!! could you make some simple pointers for plating too? im a lil weak on plating,

Anonymous said...

This is going into my regular rotation...it's really easy and delicious. Any dish that involves hard liquor and salted cured meat gets my seal of approval. Thanks for sharing this tasty recipe.

Anonymous said...

Chef John - you are awesome!

Lupe said...

Doubling up on this recipe to take to a dinner party. Can't wait to try it. Chef John I appreciate your website so much. You're a super star!

Gian D said...

In general when making pasta sauces such as meat sauce or vodka sauce, can you use milk instead of cream? Would nonfat milk work at all?

Gage eberlin said...

Chef John,

You are the man!
Couple questions
Is the prepared sauce your work horse tomato sauce from the other video?
Going to combine your chicken Parmesan recipe and one of your sauce recipes -- what are your thought on using your basic tomato sauce vs using your vodka sauce in your chicken parm recipe?