I make this dish all the time. It's a great dish to make in the wintertime when you are short on fresh tomatoes. (Don't ask me why I'm posting about it as the summer is about to begin - I have no idea . . .)
Anyhow, this recipe is based off of a recipe from Cook's Illustrated, one of my favorite cooking magazines.
1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes , drained, liquid reserved
1 T olive oil
3 ounces of pancetta (I have successfully made this dish both with proscuitto, bacon, or omitting the meat completely)
½ small onion , minced (about ¼ cup)
1 T tomato paste
2 medium cloves garlic , minced
½ t hot red pepper flakes
⅓ cup vodka
½ cup heavy cream
1 pound pasta
Fresh basil leaves
1) Take about half of the tomatoes from the can (around 5-6) and puree them in a food processor. Dice the other half. Combine the puree and diced tomatoes in a 2-cup measuring cup and add the reserve liquid from the can until you have 2 cups total.
Updated note: you can also use pre-diced tomatoes if you want. According to Cook's Illustrated, the pre-diced tomatoes contain more preservatives than the whole tomatoes, and therefore suffer a tiny bit in taste. I have tried it before with pre-diced and it's not too bad if you're in a pinch.
2) Cook the "bacon" in a pan until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and put on a paper towel to soak up any residual oil. Pour off most of the bacon oil, leaving 2 T.
3) Saute the onions and tomato paste until the onions are shiny and a bit translucent - about 3 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes in the remaining bacon oil and cook for another minute. YUM!
4) Stir in tomatoes and a tiny pinch of salt. Stir.
5) Remove the pot from the heating source!! Slowly pour in the vodka. Bring the pot back to the heating source. Turn heat back up to medium high and boil off the alcohol - about 10 minutes. You can take whiffs at the pot to figure out whether the alcohol is still there or not.
If you are comfortable, you can start cooking the pasta at this point, especially if you are making dried pasta and it will take > 10 minutes to cook. Otherwise, you can work serially as well.
The beauty of this dish is that you can stop at this point if you want to store the sauce and finish the dish another day. The last step only takes a few minutes, and therefore can be done right before the guests arrive. I have often made the recipe up to this point and then stored the sauce and bacon separately in the refrigerator.
6) Of course, if you are serving this right away, then proceed here. Once the alcohol has boiled off, add the cream and stir it in until it's hot - about 1 minute.
7) The sauce is pretty stable at this point. You can start boiling the pasta now, or, if you are a multi-tasker, you would have started boiling the pasta during the vodka-boil off stage.
8) When the pasta is almost done, drain the pasta and stir it together with sauce. Mix.
9) Stir in the freshly cut basil (to taste) and the bacon. Add freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top.
Sorry - no picture of the dish! We ate it too eagerly!!!!
I have made this dish countless times since this post, and I finally decided to take a final picture!
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