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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 ingredients 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!

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