Rigatoni a la Vodka Sauce + Other Variations

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Vodka sauce was a staple growing up in my house. My mother created her version of this recipe waaaaay back before I was even a thought in her head… I am talking way back to an ancient age called the 1970s. Little did my momma know that many years later, I would be sharing her recipe on my blog with all of you—mainly because the internet didn’t exist back when she was wearing bellbottoms, whipping around her long hair all over Brooklyn and up to only God knows what… it was the crazy ‘70s so I don’t even want to know.

When I would come home from a tennis match after a long day of high school, there was a 90% chance that my nostrils would be consumed by the smell of garlic and oil the second I entered the house. There is no better smell in the whole wide world if you ask me. When I think of that smell, I think of home. Usually my mother would have a vat of some kind of sauce and pasta combination cooking over the stove and my ravenous teenage I-can-eat-whatever-I-want-and-never-gain-weight self (I miss that super-duper skinny bitch) would squeal in delight the second I walked into the kitchen.

We always waited for my father to come home from work and we ate together as a family. At the time, I didn’t truly appreciate this tradition as much as I should have- mostly because I was starving after playing hours of tennis and was generally a full-blown beast when I was at the point of “starvation” as I would call it (insert my mother replying “you don’t even know that starving is” in her no-nonsense Brooklyn accent). Believe me, if you had this dish waiting for you when you got home, it would take all of your strength not to eat it immediately. You’ll see once you make it for yourselves.

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This vodka sauce recipe have a long history together. My mother used to pack it for me when we would go over to people’s houses and they didn’t have any vegetarian food for me to eat (this started at age seven).

I made vodka sauce for my history class in the 10th grade when I had to represent Italian culture. I got an A on the project and anyone who shared 4th period with me that year can attest that my teacher, Ms. Scalero, made me her teacher’s pet ever since the day she plopped that rigatoni smothered with pink sauce into her mouth.

The first time my first boyfriend came over and met my parents for the first time, this dish was served. And he had NEVER HAD VODKA SAUCE BEFORE! I was both amazed and horrified: He hadn’t truly lived until he tasted this meal. Still to this day, he has a handwritten copy of how to make this sauce, which has basically the same ingredients, and steps that I post in my recipe today.

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Very recently, I made this recipe for two friends of mine who just gave birth within the past few weeks/days. Giving birth deserves a freaking medal, or at least a really, really nice and shiny “push present,” but the best I can give was this sauce mixed with rigatoni, which, by the way, is my favorite tubular pasta. Penne just doesn’t scoop up this sauce the way that rigatoni can. One of my gal-pals who is now a mommy LOVES her veggies, so I added a bunch of different veggies to this sauce so that she is “bikini ready for the summer”, as she would say. For the record, she looks phenomenal and is for sure a freak of nature because she looked stunning even after a few hours of giving birth and enduring 29 hours of labor.

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Anyways, how did we get from vodka sauce to 29 hours of labor? I am so my mother’s daughter… it is terrifying. My point is, you can make this sauce very traditional or you can make it figure-friendly by adding tons of veggies, or using a healthier grain like farro instead of pasta, and cutting back on some of the heavy cream. I use half-and-half instead of heavy cream and I use very little of it in my sauce. This recipe is delicious and appealing 365 days of the year and I love it with all of my heart and soul. I hope that my readers enjoy it as much as I do and create life-long memories with this very special sauce.

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VERY IMPORTANT TIP:

IF DOUBLING OR TRIPLING THIS SAUCE, NEVER EVER CHANGE THE MEASUREMENTS OF THE VODKA. IT WILL BE INEDIBLE IF YOU DO!

Rigatoni a la Vodka Sauce + Other Variations
Rigatoni a la Vodka
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Recipe type: Entree
Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, once around the pan in a slow stream
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red onion, minced (a yellow onion is great as well)
  • ½ cup vodka
  • 2 cans tomato sauce (29-32 ounces total)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (15-16 ounces)
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • 2 TBS crushed red pepper flakes, divided (or according to taste)
  • 1 lb. pasta, such as rigatoni
  • ¼ cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup frozen peas (optional)
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese for topping
Instructions
  1. Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, garlic, and onion. Gently sauté for 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness, but watch carefully to make sure that garlic does not brown. If it does, start over because your sauce is ruined.
  2. Add vodka to the pan and reduce vodka by putting the heat on low, this will take 8 to 9 minutes. Add tomato sauce and canned tomatoes and bring sauce to a bubble and then reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes.
  3. While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until cooked to al dente (with a bite to it). While pasta cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.
  4. Stir half-and-half into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Add the rest of the crushed red pepper.
  5. Place frozen peas into strainer and then drain pasta over them. Pour MOST of the sauce in a bowl with the hot pasta and peas and toss (leaving some sauce on the side for serving). When plating pasta, top with extra sauce once serving into bowl. Top with Parmesan cheese.

 
Vodka Sauce with Farro & Veggies
Vodka Sauce with Farro & Veggies
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Recipe type: Entree
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, once around the pan in a slow stream
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red onion, minced (a yellow onion is great as well).
  • 1 cup cremini mushrooms
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • ½ cup vodka
  • 2 cans tomato sauce (29-32 ounces total)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (15-16 ounces)
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • 1 TBS crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups farro
  • ¼ cup half-and-half
  • 10 basil leaves, shredded
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese for topping
Instructions
  1. Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, garlic, and onion. Gently sauté for 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness, but watch carefully to make sure that garlic does not brown. If it does, start over because your sauce is ruined.
  2. Next, add the mushrooms. Once those cook down after 2-3 minutes add the broccoli and cook for an extra 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add vodka to the pan and reduce vodka by putting the heat on low, this will take 8 to 9 minutes. Add tomato sauce and canned tomatoes and bring sauce to a bubble and then reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes.
  4. While sauce simmers, cook farro in salted boiling water until cooked to al dente (with a bite to it). Cook farro according to directions on package since each farro may be different. While farro cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.
  5. Stir half-and-half into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Add the rest of the crushed red pepper.
  6. Drain farro and then pour MOST of the sauce in a bowl with the hot pasta and peas and toss (leaving some sauce on the side for serving). When plating farro dish, top with extra sauce once serving into bowl. Top with basil leaves and Parmesan cheese.

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