pasta with vodka sauce

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.

Rules schmules

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.

Pan and cans for Pasta

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.

sauces in pan

Vodka?!

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.

deglazing with red wine

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.

Garlic bread preparation

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.

The Pasta

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.

Adding pasta in water

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 Recipe

Pasta with vodka sauce

Allen Bixby
This recipe is a great example of how to use generic products and end up with great flavors. We literally bought the least expensive 24 ounce can of tomato sauce and 6 ounce can of tomato paste in our store. We also buy minced garlic by the jar. Naysayers may say it has less flavor than fresh; we say just use a little more. The most specific product on this list is hot Italian sausage. This will bring a lot to your sauce, and the spice will typically not overpower it. In our house we buy the hoagie rolls made in our grocery bakery, each one looks like a little loaf of French bread and serves two-ish people. Split them lengthwise and keep them in your freezer for easy garlic bread.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 50 mins
Course Dinner Entree
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 persons
Calories 613 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 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

Instructions
 

  • Put Italian sausage in a large skillet over medium heat
    Italian sausage
  • 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
    sausage cooked in pan
  • Remove the sausage and set aside
  • In the same skillet, over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons minced garlic
    softening garlic in pan
  • When garlic has softened, 3 minutes or so, add 4 ounces dry red wine to deglaze the pan
    deglazing with red wine in Large skillet
  • Add both canned red sauce and the tomato paste, 2 teaspoons dry basil, 1 teaspoon dry oregano, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
    sauces in pan
  • Stir well, add cooked Italian sausage and mix together
    sauce and sausage in pan
  • Drop heat to medium low, cover loosely and simmer 10-15 minutes
    red sauce mixed with sausage
  • 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
    Garlic bread
  • Stir the sauce, leave lid ajar
    sauce and sausage simmering in skillet
  • Verify a rolling boil on your pasta water
    boiling 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. Adding pasta in water pasta boiling in water
  • When done, transfer pasta to a colander to drain
    pasta in colander
  • Add Alfredo sauce to meat sauce, mix wellAlfredo sauce and meat sauce mixed Alfredo and meat sauce
  • Add pasta to sauce, stir, leave heat at medium high, simmer 2-3 minutes
    pasta to sauce pasta simmering in sauce
  • Serve with bread, sprinkle with parmesan if desired, enjoy.
    Pasta with vodka sauce in plate

Notes

Pro tip; To get some ‘height’ to pasta when you serve it, use tongs. As you set the noodles in the bowl or on the plate, twist it gently with the tongs two or three times, this will give it a taller look.
About the Author

They say that 10,00 hours working a skill makes you an expert. By that standard I qualify as an expert cook. I eschew the title Chef because I do not have formal training…but dang, do I have hands on work, with the burn and cut scars to prove it. [Read More]

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