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Nostalgic Rigatoni alla Vodka

November 10, 2009

In college, I worked at a great little restaurant – Pietro’s – right off of Rittenhouse Square (there’s one in Jersey and one on South Street too, although they are by no means a “chain”). Forgive their website, as the Walnut Street location is much cozier and refined as you may think from looking at the bright colors and the “Pizzeria” in the title. Think high ceilings, embossed tin tiles, a long wood bar, and dim lighting. I only worked there as a hostess for a few months – from the fall into the early winter – but I would regularly order out discounted food to bring home to our 18th & Fairmount apartment after my chef.

This was before my cooking skills has matured, and probably why I mentally connect their dishes to warming up in our urban apartment, sipping wine, and deciding that this guy was pretty awesome. The husband (then the boyfriend – not even yet the fiancé) loved their gourmet pizzas, but my favorites were the Pappardella alla Toscana, Gemelli Arugula & Pollo, and the Rigatoni alla Vodka.

So, with all those nostalgic moments from that period of our lives you can assume that the bar for Rigatoni alla Vodka is set pretty (insanely) high.

This recipe nearly clears that bar – but at least hangs even. I found it in an old issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine that I dug up in my mom’s basement. One of the tips they list is to use good quality vodka. Rot-gut booze will produce sub-standard, rot-gut sauce. Okay, I can get behind that sentiment and luckily I had just enough Belvedere vodka leftover in the freezer. The husband freaked a bit that I used the Belvedere for cooking, but tastiness won him over.
Rigatoni alla Vodka

Mostly from the Nov/Dec 2006 Cook’s Illustrated.
1 8oz can whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 slices of bacon, diced
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 salt
1/3 cup vodka
1/2 cup marscapone
1 lb penne or rigatoni pasta
2 tbsp finely chopped basil leaves

Puree half of the tomatoes in a food processor until smooth. Subsequently, you could also crush them with your fingers. Dice the remaining half of the tomatoes. Combine both in a measuring cup and add reserved liquid until you have two cups of tomato.

Measure your vodka out so that it is ready for you.

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and add the onion, the diced bacon, and tomato paste when hot. Stir occasionally, until the onions are light golden around the edges, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and pepper flakes. Cook about 30 more seconds.

Stir in the tomatoes and about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vodka. Return to medium heat and simmer briskly for about 8-10 minutes. Start your pasta water around now. When ready, add the pasta and some salt and cook until almost al dente. Drain but reserve some pasta water.

Stir in the marcapone into the tomato sauce and cook about a minute. Add the drained pasta to the sauce and cook 1-2 minutes. Add reserved pasta water if sauce is too thick. Taste and adjust salt if needed.

This should serve about four — three if someone is super-hungry.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2009 4:49 pm

    this might be a dumb question, but should the bacon slices be pre-cooked or do you cook it in the sauce?

  2. November 11, 2009 8:22 pm

    Mo, thanks for the question (I'll make it clearer in the post, too). I dice the bacon small enough that it cooks in the sauce – like a fo' pancetta size. Also, the bacon grease adds a meaty flavor behind the tomato/vodka that I really like in my vodka sauce. However, for less bacony (and less bacon fat, er go, more healthy) options, you could cook the bacon adhead of time. In that case, you might not want to add it until the end in order to preserve the crispiness while avoiding burning it.

  3. November 20, 2009 7:07 pm

    mmm can't wait to try this recipe out!

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