If silky smooth vodka sauce has been on your list of "things to cook" this year, pull up a chair and let's chat about this amazing Carbone Spicy Rigatoni Recipe. The texture and flavors of this dish are out of this world delicious - chewy pasta, rich and creamy sauce, sharp Parmesan and citrusy fresh notes of basil. It's the dish I can't stop talking about, and the one you'll make all year round.
I've heard about Carbone's Italian Restaurant in New York City for years. This classic red sauce joint is especially famous for its platter of Spicy Rigatoni Vodka. I'm dedicated to your pasta pleasure, so I determined to recreate this $32-dollar-a-plate magic so we can both share the love with family and friends in the comfort of our own kitchen.
This recipe is shockingly easy. Made with just a handful of simple ingredients (likely already in your pantry) and a few easy techniques, Carbone's spicy rigatoni vodka sauce is about to rock your world!
What you'll need to make this recipe:
Before we get to the step by step directions, a few notes about the ingredients:
Calabrian chili paste - this magic jar of Italian chili paste comes from peppers grown in Southern Italy. The flavor is smoky and sweet, not just hot, lending a complexity to the sauce that makes you keep coming back for more. You may be able to find it in your local grocery store, but certainly on Amazon or at an Italian specialty shop. Calabrian chili peppers are truly spicy, so if you're sensitive to heat, start with 1 teaspoon, then taste and adjust before serving. Substitute 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes added when cooking the onions. Taste and adjust once sauce is complete.
Vodka - the alcohol intensifies the flavor of the tomatoes and chilis while adding a heat of its own. Just ¼ cup will do. If you prefer not to use alcohol, add ¼ cup extra pasta water or veggie stock.
Pasta - I love the shorter version of rigatoni for this recipe, but really any pasta shape will do. Just cook the pasta a few minutes less than package instructions to be sure it retains the perfect al dente texture once you baptize it in the creamy sauce.
Fresh Basil - fresh basil adds so much to the finished flavor of this dish, please don't skip it. If basil isn't your thing, substitute fresh parsley (flat leaf! Always flat leaf!).
Full ingredient list and measurements included in the printable recipe card below.
Step by step instructions:
1. Cook pasta
To begin, cook rigatoni in well-salted water for 2-3 minutes less than package instructions. Reserve 1-1 ½ cups salted pasta water. Drain pasta and set aside.
2. Sauté aromatics
While pasta is cooking, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet (not cast iron) over medium-high heat. Add diced onion and cook, stirring occasionally for 5-6 minutes. The onions should be tender and brown around the edges (think crispy-brown, not soft and caramelized-brown).
Reduce heat to medium and add the minced garlic and salt. Stir and cook for 3-4 minutes until the garlic is fragrant.
3. Add tomato paste and vodka
Next, add the full tube of tomato paste and the Calabrian chili paste and cook, stirring for 5-6 minutes, until the paste turns deep red and slightly browning on the bottom of the pan. Add the vodka and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the tasty, sticky morsels on the bottom. Reduce heat to low.
4. Combine cream and parm
Measure out ¾ cup of heavy cream in a measuring cup. Using a ladle, scoop out ¼ cup of the warm salted pasta water and add it to the cream to heat it slightly (our friends at Bon Appetit taught me this - it helps keep the cream from breaking when added to the tomato sauce). Slowly add the cream to the pan of onion tomato sauce, stirring to form a silky smooth sauce.
Add grated parmesan, stir well.
5. Toss pasta
Add the al dente rigatoni (or pasta shape of your choice) to the sauce, along with another ¾ cup of pasta water. Toss to coat the pasta. Taste and adjust seasoning. Let the pasta cook for a couple of minutes to reach the perfect texture.
6. Garnish and serve
Remove from heat and serve immediately with a drizzle of olive oil, grated parmesan and fresh basil.
FAQ's and Serving Suggestions:
Any shape of traditional pasta works, although I do prefer short, cut pastas. Store-bought or homemade gnocchi would also add delicious flavor and texture to the rich pasta sauce.
If you're looking to add a little protein to the pasta dish, feel free. For my pescatarian friends, I recommend leaving the sauce vegetarian, and grilling off shrimp, scallops or salmon, then serving it over the pasta.
If you want to skip the splash of vodka, feel free! If you find that you need a little more liquid to reach your desired sauce consistency, add a few tablespoons more salted pasta water or stock.
To store, transfer pasta to an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. To reheat, add a few tablespoons of stock, water or milk to a skillet and heat the pasta gently over medium heat until warmed through. Finish with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.