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Vodka Tomato Pasta Recipe

Before tonight, I'd never made vodka tomato pasta (call it pasta alla vodka to impress your next date). Whenever I looked it up online, I was dissuaded by the naysayers who passionately deny that adding vodka to the tomato sauce makes any discernible difference to the outcome.

Look. I'm just a girl who makes pasta as a hobby. But I'm telling you, this vodka tomato sauce was phenomenal. Maybe I was struck with extraordinary beginner's luck and hit the deliciously sweet spot between gastronomic science and divinity. This pasta sauce married a bite like black pepper with ghostlike traces of floral botanicals, and I have to attribute it to the mystical properties of the vodka.

If you're dying to know the science behind why vodka tastes so good in tomato sauce, knock yourself out. I myself am content to live with the grand mystery of it all. If you take anything away from the debate, let it be this — vodka tomato sauce probably contains some alcohol even though it's cooked, so serve with discretion.

Anyway, here's how to make pasta alla vodka.

What you'll need from the shops to make vodka tomato pasta:

  • Short pasta of choice (penne is good, rigatoni is great)

  • Good quality tomato paste, the kind that comes in a tube or a tin

  • Pouring cream

  • About a quarter cup's worth of vodka

  • Parm or similar hard cheese

  • One onion

  • About three cloves of garlic

  • Olive oil

  • Salt

  • Chilli flakes (optional)

My favourite tube tomato paste is this one from Mutti, which I typically find in my local Spar. I was very pleased to find that Woolworths has a nice one, too. Don't panic if you can't find a tube of tomato paste, the one in the can will do just fine. You're just missing out on the rare pleasure of squeezing an entire tube of paste until it empties, which is a shame.

Kitchen bits that are nice to have for this recipe (and in general)

I survived making delicious food with minimal gear for years, but these kitchen bits do make life quite a lot easier. They're worth saving up for, especially for technique-forward recipes like this one:

Okay, enough faffing, here's how to make the pasta

Step One: Prep your kak

First things first, put a pot of salted water on the boil for your pasta. While that's going, chop an onion and roughly dice your garlic cloves. If you aren't confident about chopping onions, get your knife sharpened and watch this video by Chef Frank Proto. You'll be grand.

Finally, use a microplane or the smallest holes in your grater to grate a cup(ish) of parmigiano.

Step Two: Cook the aromatics

Put your Dutch oven or the nearest thing to it on medium heat with a generous drizzle of olive oil. When that's warm, toss in the diced onion with a pinch of salt for luck. Sweat 'em out until they are browned very slightly at the edges, at which point you should chuck in the garlic and cook for another minute.

Step Three: Introduce the tomato paste to the Maillard reaction

When the garlic is fragrant, sprinkle in the chilli flakes and squeeze the tube of tomato paste into the pot with gleeful abandon.

Smoosh that around and cook it until it turns from bright red to a rusty kind of brown. Don't panic if the bottom of the pot turns dark brown, that's just sugar from the tomatoes forming a delicious fond.

When you're satisfied with the browning of your tomato paste, deglaze the pan with a healthy splash of vodka. Don't be shy. Use enough vodka to turn the chunky paste into something more closely resembling liquid.

Step Four: The sauce is cooking now!

With the vodka party in full swing, scoop some salted pasta water into the measuring jug and pour in about half of the pouring cream.

This is supposed to temper the cream so that it doesn't split the sauce. Gradually pour the diluted cream into the vodka tomato paste, stirring as you go.

The sauce should be glossy and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. When you're satisfied with the consistency of the sauce, chuck in a generous handful of grated parm. Mix, taste, and season with salt if necessary.

Step Five: Combine and serve

Using the spider, scoop the cooked paste into the freshly prepared sauce and mix to combine. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and more grated parm.

There it is: rigatoni alla vodka. A very sexy dish demanding very few ingredients and very little time. Enjoy.


The Life & Style Team


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