Every once in a while we spike the tomato sauce.
You should try it sometime. What’s better draped over pasta perfectly al dente than a tangy, velvety vodka sauce? Our friends and family tell us that no vodka sauce is as intoxicatingly delicious as ours, and we believe them.
Onions and pancetta sautéed in butter is part of the secret. The mild sweetness of the cream juxtaposed with the heat of crushed red pepper is another. A perfectly smooth tomato sauce is a must, but there is another ingredient yet that makes our vodka sauce special – brandy.
We have our sister-in-law, Valentina, to thank for the tip on adding brandy to our vodka sauce. We’re not sure why, but it makes the difference between a good vodka sauce and a great one.
Most of us love vodka sauce because of the sophisticated, slightly risqué image it solicits (pasta sauce risqué??). There is functionality behind the fashion, however. Tomatoes have flavor compounds that are alcohol-soluble, meaning that they are released by alcohol. While the sauce simmers, the vodka and brandy tease these intense flavors out of the tomatoes. The alcohol cooks off (mostly) in the process, leaving just a hint of boozy undertones.
So, go ahead and add some hooch to your tomato sauce from time to time – it’s sure to raise your spirits.
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 1/4 of a medium white onion, cut into large slivers
- 6 oz pancetta, diced
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 1/4 cup brandy
- 28 oz canned whole San Marzano tomatoes
- 1/2 cup panna da cucina, or substitute heavy whipping cream
- 1 package penne or pennette
- Parmigiano Reggiano
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, pancetta and crushed red pepper and sauté until the onions are translucent and the pancetta is crispy, three to five minutes. Remove and discard the onion
Add the vodka and brandy and cook over medium heat for five more minutes until partially reduced.
Place the food mill on top of the saucepan and pass the tomatoes and their sauce through it, producing a smooth tomato sauce. Salt to taste and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
When the sauce has thickened, add the cream and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste for salt and adjust if needed. Remove from heat.
While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a heaping handful of course salt to the pot. Add the pasta and cook to al dente according to the cooking time on the package.
When cooked, drain the pasta and return it to the saucepan with the vodka sauce. Cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring to coat the pasta.
Serve immediately with a sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano on top.
If you do not have a food mill, you can blend the canned tomatoes in a blender.
Some canned tomatoes are packed with basil leaves for flavor. If that's the case, remove the basil before passing through the food mill or blending.
Feel free to experiment and add more or less vodka, brandy, red pepper and salt to suit your taste.