Like all foods that hit the public radar, an instant dispute ensues about who invented it. Usually in decades gone past, because it takes a while for dishes to percolate to the public awareness. Mostly we say, who cares? If it’s good just enjoy.
Which brings us to Italian cooking and food. It is better than good. One of the most versatile groups of ingredients, all on this moving carousel of intermixing and complimenting, offering new recipes or dish variations all the time. Italian cooking also contains some of the most complex, and most simple recipes around. We’re going to demystify this dish with an easy build on the sauce, and a few tricks to up your pasta game.
One kitchen rule we had was if you had a way to get equal quality, or better, and it was easier, share that good idea. Some people called some of these ideas cheating. Not wrong, but whatever, our consciouses are clear, and all the evidence has been eaten.
For example, and this causes exploding heads of my friends who are aficionados of Italian cooking, buying packages sauce and components. Get over yourselves. Here’s a peek behind the curtain. Almost every barbecue joint, for instance, buys their sauce. The better ones buy a base barbecue sauce and tweak the flavors with spices, and other add-ins, to create great flavor profiles. That’s what we will do with this sauce. Buy some pre-made items and build an excellent sauce in 30 minutes.
Apparently 9 out of 10 Italians prefer vodka to red wine. Fair. Sounds like a poll from the vodka industry. There is even a story that a chef in the employ of a vodka manufacturer developed the dish specifically to sell more vodka. Both red wine and vodka have their place in the beverage category. The real question is if it matters having vodka in the sauce. My inclination is no, it is probably only there because many who cook are closet pyromaniacs, and deglazing a pan with vodka makes a really cool fireball of momentary flame. Since vodka flavors are so subtle they’ll be completely and totally overshadowed by everything else in this sauce.
And then you have people who will actually say the vapors of the vodka opens up flavor to the taste buds in your mouth, then go on to say rest assured though, all the alcohol cooks out. Make up your mind. They also say, accurately this time, alcohol is a solvent. It helps flavors meld together and extracts additional favors from your ingredients. In our case we are skipping the vodka splash and flash, and using red wine for the alcohol and also lots of flavor.
The sauce itself
Vodka sauce takes two great sauce basics and blends them together. The weight and acidity of tomato based red sauce and the richness of a cream-based sauce, often with cheese. Initially it was built into a dish with penne pasta, although now you will find it with any noodle and any meat. The sauce will vary from a deep tomato with a little cream, to very creamy with a little tomato, and the whole color wheel of shades in between. We’ll make this one in the middle, and put some sausage in the red sauce for richness.
These factors make this a favorite dish of ours because you can legit say there is no truly right way to make it, so any tasty variation is just fine. Our choice here is to build a good red sauce then use a commercial Alfredo sauce to bring in the cream and cheese flavors. Uh-oh, more Italian heads are exploding somewhere. Sorry, not sorry. This works great, you’ll see. As long as we are cheating, we’ll throw in a super easy garlic bread for your side item.
You pick the noodles, we felt like traditional spaghetti noodle for our meal. Which brings another point. As much as we can and do shortcut (remember the rule, easier and still good) there are some traditional approaches that should be kept. First, simmer the pasta in the sauce for a couple minutes. Instead of the sauce as a topping, this process integrates the flavors of the sauce directly into the noodle, which is what good pasta is all about.
Oil on the pasta water. Many argue this does nothing. Dealing with long noodles – fett, spag, linguine and such – the oil does help them separate as they enter the water, especially if you use a whisking technique to slowly separate them as they go in.
Pasta with vodka sauce
- 1 Pound Spicy Italian sausage
- 16 Ounces Dry pasta
- 24 Ounce Can Flavored red sauce
- 6 Ounce Can Tomato paste
- 6 Ounces Alfredo sauce
- 2 Tablespoons Minced garlic
- 4 Ounces Dry red wine
- 2 Teaspoon Dry basil
- 1 Teaspoon Dry oregano
- ½ Teaspoon Red pepper flakes
- 2 Tablespoons Olive oil divided
- Shredded parmesan for garnish
- Garlic Bread
- 1 Long Hoagie or French bread piece
- 4 Tablespoons Butter
- ½ Teaspoon Ms. Dash or similar seasoning
- ¼ Teaspoon Salt
- Put Italian sausage in a large skillet over medium heat
- Fill a large pot 2/3 with water and one tablespoon olive oil, put on back burner, covered, over medium heat
- Cook the sausage until lightly browned and cooked through
- Remove the sausage and set aside
- In the same skillet, over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- When garlic has softened, 3 minutes or so, add 4 ounces dry red wine to deglaze the pan
- Add both canned red sauce and the tomato paste, 2 teaspoons dry basil, 1 teaspoon dry oregano, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Stir well, add cooked Italian sausage and mix together
- Drop heat to medium low, cover loosely and simmer 10-15 minutes
- Soften in the microwave 4 Tablespoons butter, add ½ teaspoon Ms. Dash or similar garlic seasoning, ¼ teaspoon salt, and mix well
- Spread over bread, set aside
- Stir the sauce, leave lid ajar
- Verify a rolling boil on your pasta water
- Add pasta by swirling it in the water, letting it evenly come out of your hand to keep it separate.
- As the pasta softens get it all below the surface, set a timer for the minimum cook time listed on the package. This will vary by pasta type, it says 5-8 minutes for example, cook for 5 minutes.
- When done, transfer pasta to a colander to drain
- Add Alfredo sauce to meat sauce, mix well
- Add pasta to sauce, stir, leave heat at medium high, simmer 2-3 minutes
- Serve with bread, sprinkle with parmesan if desired, enjoy.