Just before Thanksgiving, our family fell like Dominos. Yep, we got hit with the Covid. Mini Me went down first, and she definitely got it the worst. Then me, then the Big Guy. But after about three or four days, we were feeling back to our normal selves. All we had to do then was ride out the quarantine. And what better way to do that than by cooking up some yummy comfort food? This Pasta alla Vodka was something we made together and fell completely in love with.
What does vodka sauce taste like?
To get it out of the way first, vodka sauce does not taste like vodka. Vodka sauce is most simply described as a cross between tomato sauce and alfredo sauce. It contains many of the same components – tomatoes, cream, garlic, herbs and spices. Combining them all results in a beautiful shade of pink.
So why add vodka at all? This is where it gets cool and science-y. Vodka acts as an emulsifier in cooking, helping to combine acids and fats so that they are smooth and supple. Think about when you’ve made homemade salad dressing. You’ve got the oil and the vinegar, and they kind of separate from each other. If you put them into a jar, you can actually see one sitting on top of the other in a layer.
Then think about when you’ve added Dijon mustard and whisked it really fast. Boom, you’ve got a creamy, cohesive vinaigrette! Vodka does this for the tomatoes (acid) and the cream (fat) in vodka sauce. You don’t taste it because it evaporates before you even get the chance, and what’s left behind is the ultimate in creamy comfort.
How to make Pasta alla Vodka
I love a good one pot meal, and this one of them. Make the sauce by sauteing onion and garlic in oil (how all good things begin). Then add tomato paste and some seasonings. When you pour in the vodka you’ll almost be able to see it evaporate just before you pour the cream in.
This sauce will be thick, so be sure to reserve some of the water you boiled the pasta in. Use it to thin the sauce to your liking.
We threw in some extra fun to this Pasta alla Vodka that you won’t find in a more traditional version. The sweet peas and smoky bacon add just the right balance to the richness of the sauce. I always use turkey bacon, but you could use real bacon or even pancetta. Anything salty and smoky will do the trick.
So the next time you’re stuck in the house with nowhere to go, try whipping this dish up with your favorite people. I know you’ll all love it! And don’t forget to let me know by dropping a rating or leaving a comment below. Enjoy!
Pasta alla Vodka
- 1 lb. medium shell pasta
- 1 large yellow onion minced
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 9 oz. tomato paste
- 2 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cups sweet green peas fresh or frozen and defrosted
- 8-10 strips turkey bacon
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Before draining, reserve about 3/4 cup of pasta water. Drain and set aside.
- Heat a large pan over medium heat. Coat with nonstick cooking spray. Cook the bacon until crispy. Remove bacon and dice into small pieces.
- Add the olive oil to the pan. Add the onion and garlic and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, red pepper and salt.
- Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the vodka. Allow the vodka to nearly evaporate. Then, pour in the heavy cream.
- Lower the heat to a simmer. Add the peas and allow the sauce to thicken slightly. Add reserved pasta water to thin the sauce to the desired consistency. Off heat, stir in the pasta and bacon.