I don’t have too many options for restaurants in my area. That’s what inspired part of my cooking journey, a desire to bring restaurant-quality food into my home so that we’re never really missing out on dining out. The hubby and I were looking forward to our at-home date night and when we get that opportunity, I try to pretty-up my menu. Italian food is my weakness, so I went to a classic dish for inspiration, penne alla vodka.

Its simplicity is what makes penne alla vodka so amazing. The recipe calls for pantry staples and a few fresh ingredients, so it’s easy to make and super delicious to eat. Bacon and heavy cream make everything taste better so that’s why I’m using them both here. We all know that bacon adds richness from all that rendered fat and, because the bacon is diced into small bits, that means each bite of my penne alla vodka will have a bit of mouth-wateringly salty bacon.

You’ll want to cook the bacon in a large pot or a dutch oven so that you’ve got room to add the pasta into the sauce. The bacon fat will be used to sauté the onion and garlic, and then I’ll add just a half-cup of my favorite store-bought marinara, some vodka, herbs, and red pepper flakes. You could skip the red pepper flakes if you’re not interested in the heat, but I think even a small amount can make a delicious difference in flavor.

I like to cook my pasta until it’s just al dente and then finish cooking it in the vodka sauce. I also like to save a little bit of the pasta water to add to my sauce as needed – that’s the magic that comes from pasta water, any cook worth their salt knows this essential kitchen trick. I’ll bring my bacon bits back into the mix along with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and give it all a few slow stirs so everything comes together.

This rich and delicious penne alla vodka is such a special dish, one that I love to make, love to eat, and love to share with the ones I love.

Penne alla Vodka

Serves 4-6 Prep 5m  Cook 25m

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Ingredients
  • 1 (16 oz) box penne pasta
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut in half lengthwise and diced
  • 1/2 cup white or yellow onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup marinara
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt (more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (more to taste)
Preparation
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Shorten cook time by 1 minute.
  2. In a large skillet or frying pan, cook diced bacon in 1 tablespoon olive oil until browned. Remove from the skillet and set on a paper towel to drain excess fat. Do not drain the skillet.
  3. Sauté minced onions in the bacon fat until translucent.
  4. Add minced garlic and sauté until just fragrant, about 1 minute.
  5. Add marinara sauce, heavy cream, vodka, basil and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then let simmer; 10 – 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if desired.
  6. Transfer cooked pasta to skillet and stir to mix.
  7. Add reserved bacon bits and 3/4 cup grated parmesan and stir again to combine. Reserve 1/4 cup for garnish.