Salt and black pepper
2/3-3/4 pound bowtie pasta or penne rigate
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1/3 pound pancetta or lean bacon, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small red chili pepper, seeded and chopped, or 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup vodka
1 can diced or crushed tomatoes (14 1/2 ounces)
A few leaves of fresh basil, torn
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed, or fresh peas
2 pounds scrubbed and debearded mussels
Crusty bread, for mopping
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, for serving (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; salt it, add the pasta and cook to al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the starchy cooking water.
While the pasta is working, in a deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat the EVOO, two turns of the pan, over medium heat. Add the pancetta (or bacon) and cook until the fat renders, 2-3 minutes. Add the onion, garlic and chili; season with pepper. Cover and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Stir in the vodka and reduce by half. Stir in the tomatoes and basil and bring to a simmer. Stir in the heavy cream and bring to a simmer.
If using fresh peas, stir them into the sauce (if using frozen peas, wait to add them with the cooked pasta). Add the mussels, then cover and cook until they open, 7-10 minutes. Discard any unopened shells.
Add the pasta to the mussels, adding some of the reserved cooking water as needed to thin the sauce. Toss to combine. Serve the mussels and pasta with crusty bread and cheese, if desired.