Pasta in Vodka Sauce (Pasta alla Vodka) is an Italian-American dish whose primary ingredients are tomato sauce, vodka and cream. I was initially reluctant to try this dish when I found it on menus, vodka? Really?
While wine is most often used in making Italian sauces, the vodka in this dish actually adds a little peppery flavor and brings out some of the sweetness of the tomatoes. The flavor of the vodka isn’t strong, but it does bring a certain element that gives this dish some of its iconic flavor.
Another key reason to use the vodka is that it helps keep the cream from breaking when paired with the acidic tomato sauce. The results are a smooth creamy sauce that is truly comforting and delicious.
We have made some adjustments to the traditional recipe that we think elevates the flavor even further. First, we cook the onions slowly, for 20 minutes or more, until they are soft, browned and fully caramelized.
Second, we use a condiment called sambal olek, which is essentially crushed pepper sauce. It adds the heat that we are looking for, without adding some strong vinegar flavors present in many hot sauces. You can find it is the oriental section of your market.
If you aren’t interested in tracking it down you can add a chili sauce, such as sriracha, or substitute another tablespoon of tomato paste along with a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Easy!
Another difference from the classic alla vodka dishes is that we have opted to use tortiglioni. Thinner penne is the pasta that is most often used, or rigatoni (which is larger).
The tortiglioni is sized between the two. It has a tube shape that will become filled with the creamy sauce, and ridges that will allow the sauce to cling to the surface. If you can’t find it, using either the penne or rigatoni will do just fine.
Finally, we have also added our own recipe for the crumbled pork sausage. We use this recipe because we can control the amount of fat in the pork, and because pork sausage isn’t always available in parts of the world where we travel. The spice blend works perfectly for us, but if you have quality Italian pork sausage available then by all means use it. Spicy or sweet versions will both work depending on your preference.
The last difference in our recipe is that we add in a good dose of mozzarella cheese, because extra cheese, especially stretchy cheese, is always welcome to the party!
We have a video version along with the step-by-step instructions for perfect results every time.Here are a few additional pasta recipes you might enjoy:
- 8 oz (227 g) Dry Tortiglioni
- 2 (30ml) Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 3/4 lb (.34kg) Sausage (prepared or per directions that follow)
- 1 Large White Onion, Diced
- 1 (4.2g) Teaspoon Salt
- 4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
- 2 Tablespoons (30ml) Spicy Chili Sauce, such as (Sambal Olek) *
- 1/3 Cup (75g) Tomato Sauce
- 2 oz (60ml) Vodka
- 1 Cup (250ml) Heavy Cream
- 1 Cup (250ml) Pasta Water
- 1/2 Cup (50g) Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
- 1/4 Cup (25g) Shredded Parmesan Cheese
- Fresh Ground Black Pepper, Red Pepper Flakes and Salt to taste
- Chopped Parsley or Basil
Fill a pot with about a gallon of water and adjust the heat to high and cover with a lid.
Once the pot reaches a strong boil, add 1 - 2 Tablespoons of salt. Add the pasta and stir. Continue to stir occasionally, adjusting the heat to make sure the water does not boil over.
Continue boiling until the pasta is cooked to the al dente stage.
Carefully remove about a cup of the pasta water and set aside.
Drain the pasta and set aside.
Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a sauté pan over medium heat.
If not following our recipe for homemade sausage, remove any casing around the sausage meat, and add to the pan. Using a spatula, crumble the sausage into small pieces.
Stir occasionally, and continue to cook until the sausage begins to caramelize and form a brown crust (about 7 minutes). Remove the sausage and set aside. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of any rendered fat in the pan.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan (if no rendered fat remains from cooking the sausage) and reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the diced onions and 1 teaspoon of salt.
Stir the onions occasionally, allowing them to slowly brown. This process may take up to 20 minutes in order for the onions to become soft, browned and evenly caramelized.
Add the garlic and continue to sauté for another 3 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium.
Add the vodka and allow it to cook down and evaporate (about 2 minutes).
Add the chili sauce, tomato sauce and tomato paste. Stir occasionally and allow the mixture come up to heat and bubble slowly.
Combine 1/4 cup (60ml) of the warm pasta water with the heavy cream. Slowly pour the cream into the pan while stirring. This will bring the cream up to temperature so that it won't break when added to the pan.
Once the pot begins to slowly simmer, add the pasta and sausage and combine.
Use some additional pasta water if the pasta is not well coated with the sauce. The starches in the water will help the sauce to remain thick.
Add the cheese and gently combine.
Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with additional shredded parmesan cheese, fresh parsley or basil and red pepper flakes.
* Sambal Olek is a blended spicy pepper sauce commonly used in Asian dishes. It can be found in the oriental section of your market. If you aren't interested in tracking it down you can add a chili sauce, such as sriracha, or substitute with a tablespoon of tomato paste along with 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Easy!
Amount Per Serving Calories 490Total Fat 30gCarbohydrates 31gProtein 18g
- 1 lb (1/2 Kg) Lean Ground Pork
- 2 tsp (3.9 g) Fennel Seeds (ground or crushed)
- 1 tsp (3.2 g) Garlic Powder
- 1 tsp (3.2 g) Onion Powder
- 1 tsp (2 g) Ground Cumin
- 1 tsp Paprika (2.3 g) (hot, sweet or smoky)
- ½ tsp (3 g) Salt
- ½ tsp (1.2 g) Black Pepper
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) White Wine
- 2 tsp (10.5 g) Dijon Mustard
- Pinch of Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
Place the ground pork in a medium sized bowl. Add the spices and gently combine with your hands. Do not over-mix.
The pork can be formed into patties and frozen for up to 6 months.