If there’s one meal I would be satisfied with eating for the rest of my life… it’s pasta. Especially pasta with homemade vodka sauce.
My Rigatoni alla Vodka is my version of the classic Penne alla Vodka which has a lot of history behind the dish. Shall we take a stroll down memory lane before we eat?
Oddly enough, both Italy and the United States claim the origin of Penne alla Vodka. Sure, it sounds Italian but after further research, it seems the dish we all know and love isn’t being served all over Italy as it appears to be on every Italian menu here in America. I also read that Penne all Vodka became popular in the mid 70’s – 80’s and would be prepared by guys who wanted to cook for their girlfriends and appear “cool” and “edgy” by adding vodka to the sauce. Who knows if this is true though…
The sauce is very simple and each ingredient can certainly be found in any born & raised Italian’s pantry. Tomatoes, prosciutto, onion, cream, vodka… none of the ingredients are difficult to find. It seems there is a tiny debate about whether the base of a good vodka sauce contains pork products such as prosciutto or not. I’ve read a lot of recipes which include pork and I’ve read a lot which are left vegetarian. Since this is my version and I am a meat eater, I am going to use prosciutto but in a different way…
What I love so much about this dish is the simplicity. All of the ingredients mix so well together and on a cold winter’s day, there’s nothing like a big bowl of hot pasta with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Let’s get started!
For this recipe you will need:
1 pound rigatoni pasta
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large shallot, sliced
2 garlic clove, sliced
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup vodka
2 cans whole tomatoes (highly recommend San Marzano)
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup freshly chopped basil
Salt & pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Using a large sauté pan, heat the butter & olive oil (butter provides flavor & olive oil helps keep the butter from burning) over medium heat.
- Add the shallot, garlic and chili flakes to the pan. Cook until the shallot & garlic have softened- about 2-3 minutes. *Cooking seasoning is called “blooming.”*
- Add the tomato paste and pincer (pincer means to “cook out”) until the paste is caramelized- about 4 minutes.
- Next, add the vodka and reduce until the vodka is almost completely evaporated.
- Add the tomatoes and allow to cook on low for about 10 minutes.
- Carefully transfer the sauce to a blender and blend until smooth. Return the sauce to the same pan.
- Add the cream to the tomato sauce and season with salt & pepper to taste. Allow the sauce to continue cooking over low heat.
- Cook the pasta until al dente. Do not drain the pasta!
- Once the pasta has reached al dente, transfer the pasta from the boiling water straight into the vodka sauce. Should you need to loosen the sauce, simply use the pasta water. *Always keep extra pasta cooking water on hand as it’s starchy, flavorful and creates a silky finish to sauces.*
- Season the pasta with salt & pepper to taste and add lots of freshly grated Parmesan, freshly chopped basil, and the prosciutto breadcrumb topping. Mmmmmm… you have no idea how delicious this is!!
For the prosciutto breadcrumbs you need:
8oz thinly sliced prosciutto
2-3 slices of crunchy bread (ciabatta or sourdough work great!)
3 sprigs fresh thyme
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Layer the prosciutto slices and the fresh thyme over the bread. Drizzle with a tiny bit of oil and bake in the oven until the bread is crunchy- about 10 minutes. Set your timer!
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool before transferring to a food processor. *If you put them into the processor piping hot, the steam will cause the bread to become soft & soggy.*
- Once cooled, process until the prosciutto & breadcrumbs are blended together like sand.
- Top on your pasta. Close your eyes and savour every moment.