Vodka pasta is an Italian-American classic that has been heavily popularized through celebrity influence and social media. Many companies attempt to capitalize by selling their own jarred versions of the iconic sauce. But no grocery store product can recreate the smooth, rich, and flavorful taste of the real thing. This recipe can.
Why Make it at Home?
Well one thing I’ll tell you is that it’s the best way to recreate your favorite restaurant penne or rigatoni alla vodka. Homemade vodka sauce uses $5.86 worth of ingredients to make about 22.4 ounces of sauce, which is about 5-6 servings. Compare that to the $18 per serving at the restaurants and you got a no brainer.
Now the cheapest grocery store brands cost about 4 dollars for 25 ounces, which is considerably cheaper ($0.16 per ounce vs $0.26 per ounce) than making it from scratch, but it is inferior in quality. Because it needs to be shelf stable, there are no fresh ingredients and it shows in the taste.
Tomato Paste – A hefty dollop of tomato paste gives vodka pasta its signature flavor. Its concentrated tomato-ey flavor combines with the cream to create a luxurious sauce. It cannot be replaced with regular canned tomatoes. If you want to make a lighter sauce that’s also more economical, feel free to supplement the tomato paste with extra canned tomatoes, but do not omit the paste.
Cream – Two things separate vodka sauce from regular tomato sauce, vodka (obviously) and a heart-palpitating amount of cream. If you want a slightly healthier alternative, try half and half or whole milk. A good vegan alternative would be cashew cream.
Vodka – A seemingly strange ingredient to the uninitiated, The alcohol content in vodka enhances the fruity flavors of tomato, and adds a slight astringent flavor that balances out the richness of the dish.
Better Than Restaurants Vodka Pasta
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz tomato paste
½ tsp chili flakes
¼ cup vodka
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
2 tbsp butter
1 cup grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
Pasta of choice
- Add olive oil to a pan. Heat on medium-low until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic. Saute on low heat until soft and translucent, about 7-8 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and chili flakes, stir and cook the tomato paste on medium heat until fragrant and barely starting to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Add the vodka and stir for an additional minute
- Add the cream and stir until fully incorporated. Stir in the butter and parmesan on low heat until fully incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm on the lowest heat.
- Cook the pasta 1 minute short of al dente according to box instructions. Drain while setting aside at least a cup of pasta water. Return the drained pasta back to the pot with the desired amount of sauce, roughly ½ cup per serving . Stir in pasta water until the sauce consistency is slightly loose.* Cook the sauce and pasta together for 2-3 minutes and taste again for seasoning. Optionally garnish with fresh herbs. Enjoy.
- *The sauce will thicken as the sauce cooks with the pasta, and it will thicken further as it cools to eating temperature.