Rigatoni alla vodka is one of those Italian-American classics that always pleases a crowd. It also happens to be easy to prepare and, like our basic tomato sauce, can be made in less than the time it takes to boil and cook pasta. Our version is nice and garlicky with some heat from hot pepper flakes, mellowed by the creamy pink sauce. It is also healthier than the classic, substituting half and half for heavy cream. Feel free to add mushrooms, prosciutto or your other favorite ingredients.
The principal function of the vodka, which has little taste of its own, is to deglaze the pan before adding the tomatoes to pick up the delicious bits of garlic and onion that have stuck to the bottom. If you don’t have any vodka at home, leave it out, or substitute white wine for a subtly different flavor. Fast and delicious, this dish could become one of your weeknight staples.
Rigatoni alla Vodka
1 pound rigatoni or other pasta shape
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1 small onion, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, chopped or sliced
A good splash of vodka
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
Approximately 1 cup half and half or cream
Torn basil or parsley, for garnish
1. Boil a pot of water, salt it and cook the rigatoni until it is about a minute short of al dente. It will finish cooking in the sauce.
2. Meanwhile, heat a saute pan large enough to hold the pasta and sauce over medium heat. When it is hot, add the olive oil and the red pepper flakes, if using. After 30 seconds, add the chopped onion and garlic with some salt and pepper. Saute until the onions are soft but not too brown, about 6-8 minutes.
3. Move the pan off the heat and pour the vodka into center of the pan. It will sizzle. Return the pan to the heat and, using a spoon, scrape any onion and garlic bits off the bottom. After the vodka boils for a minute or two, add the tomatoes. Bring to boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until the pasta is almost done. Add enough half and half to achieve the desired color, stir and heat through, being careful not to boil the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
4. When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the sauce. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley or basil and accompanied by grated parmigiano reggiano cheese.