Vodka Sauce

Vodka has very little use in our house. Gin on the other hand,  but that’s another story. Our neglected bottle of vodka emerges only for that brilliant Sunday morning restorative, the spicy Caesar – Bloody Mary to you Americans – or used for a carb session in a vodka sauce.

My first taste of vodka sauce came out of a jar thanks to the Rao’s, the 10-table you-can-never-get-a-reservation Italian restaurant in East Harlem, New York.
Thick with saucy oregano and basil-flecked tomatoes and rich with parmesan and cream, it came with an equally rich price tag and saved for special occasions.
According to research, vodka sauce originated in the 1980s. Joanna’s restaurant in New York was the first to make a success of the dish. Others, including Rao’s followed suit. Then came cookbooks and celebrity chefs’ versions, including Nigella Lawson. Most recipes always add cream and butter, but the version created one wine-soaked evening with friends is and has become an old reliable.
It goes something like this: lots of garlic, finely minced and slow-simmered in olive oil, a few crushed red chiles, an ample dose of vodka, add pureed whole tomatoes and simmer until thick. Serve over penne pasta with lots of freshly grated romano. No cream. No butter.
Using whole tomatoes is very important, as I’ve found chopped or pre-pureed canned tomatoes contain too much water. Every recipe for the sauce requests penne pasta but cavatappi (aka Scoobie Doos) also works brilliantly, as does my fallback noodle, spaghetti.
It’s a zingy sauce with deep tomato flavour with mellowed garlic and vodka sweetness complemented by chile heat.
So dust off that bottle of vodka and get cooking!
Vodka Sauce (with thanks to the Ushers)
Serves 4
Penne pasta (substitute Cavatappi or Spaghetti)
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 to 6 large garlic cloves, minced fine
2 to 3 Tbsp. crushed red chile
1 cup of vodka
5 cups of pureed tomatoes (from 1 1/2 cans (the 796 ml size) of quality whole tomatoes)
Salt to taste
Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
Gently heat the olive oil in a deep saucepan and simmer the minced garlic for about five minutes, taking care not to brown the garlic. Add the chiles and fry for a minute and pour in the vodka. Bring to a boil and simmer for another five minutes. Puree 1 1/2 cans of whole tomatoes and add to the pot. Bring to the boil and simmer between 30 to 40 minutes until thick. Add salt to taste. Serve with al dente pasta and pass the cheese, please.

2 Responses to “Vodka Sauce”

  1. Kristy Lynn says:

    Vodka is always the answer to everything…. Okay, maybe not. But it does look like an answer to pasta sauce.

  2. Susan says:

    I love this pasta…and i agree, no butter or cream…but i do add the vodka to the warm al dente pasta a la Nigella…before adding the sauce…it somehow works! Also, i do prefer pecarino any time to pamesano…the tang gets me every time!

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