grannie geek: rigatoni alla vodkaI’m in love with Italian food.  Isn’t everyone?  So many dishes are creamy, rich and very satisfying.  They’re easy to prepare and fun to make, unpretentious – something to please everyone.  And Italian food is inexpensive and serves plenty.  Besides, I have two tomato plants in my garden with lots of ripening fruit.  So, I made a couple of batches of marinara sauce Saturday.  And I made the sauce expressly with this recipe in mind.

Much of my rekindled passion for Italian meals comes from reading Lidia Bastianich’s website Lidia’s Italy,  and listening to her program on Create TV.  I enjoy her recipes.  Her style is easy, and the recipes use what I believe are authentic technique – like if you went to Italy, that’s how hometown cooks might prepare their own dishes.  And sounds she makes when she’s cooking – all the “mmm’s” punctuate each step.  You just know Lidia enjoys cooking, and very much likes what she prepares.  She always has a little story for us. Another recipe I want to try soon is her Eggplant Parmigiana.  YUM!

I do use Lidia’s recipe, but I used my marinara, so I skipped the sauce making part.  She makes the sauce while the pasta is cooking using San Marzano tomatoes and 10 cloves of garlic, and it’s quick, too.  What’s not to love?  Here’s her recipe, if you want to try it:  Penne alla Vodka

Also, I didn’t have penne, so used smaller rigatoni instead.  Others who have made this dish have made other yummy additions.  One fried small pieces of pancetta to add crispy, flavorful bits to the sauce.  Another increased the vodka to 1/2 cup – indeed.  (The alcohol should cook out of the sauce as it simmers, but you might use your judgment about serving to children or others with an alcohol sensitivity.)  And you can add butter or olive oil to finish the pasta, when it’s ready to serve.

If you’re wondering, like I always am, about how to pair pasta with different sauces and the like, you might want to check out this website.  It’s a fount of information about pasta:  Cook’s Thesaurus: Pasta

In any event, here we go:

grannie geek, weighing pasta

Weighing rigatoni for half the recipe

I halved the recipe, because it’s just for Richard and me.  There was easily enough for 3 servings, with salad and/or garlic bread, a very hearty meal.  But I’m giving directions for the whole recipe.

In a large pot, boil 6 quarts of water.  Add one Tablespoon salt.  Add the pasta, and cook to just al dente according to manufacturer’s directions.  My rigatoni took 11 minutes to cook.  If you’re going to begin the sauce as the water comes to a boil and while the pasta is cooking, you’ll have plenty of time to remove the pasta directly from the cooking pot into the sauce.  (Remember to strain the pasta using a handheld strainer or wire skimmer – do not pour pasta, water and all into the sauce.  That would be bad, very bad.)  Otherwise, just drain the cooked pasta in a colander.  Put the pasta back into the pot, and pour on the sauce.

Something interesting I read on the pasta packaging is that the longer you cook pasta, the higher the glycemic index.  I did not know that . . .

grannie geek, marinara sauceI put 3 ladlesful of marinara sauce in a warm skillet.  Maybe not 10 cloves of garlic, but this sauce has plenty.   For the full recipe, pour in the whole quart of sauce.   Feel free to add more finely minced garlic, if you wish.

grannie geek, vodka pasta sauceThen I added the vodka, and heavy cream, stirred, and brought the mixture to a gentle simmer.  The sauce looks nice and creamy and bubbly – perfect!

grannie geek, pasta in sauceAs the pasta was done cooking, I used a handheld strainer, and added the pasta directly from the pot to the sauce.  I kept the pasta water on the stove, in case I needed it to loosen up the sauce.  If you do, all you need to add is a ladle or two, until the sauce is smooth and loose.

grannie geek: rigatoni alla vodkaStir the pasta into the sauce.  Bring it back up to a simmer.  Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and a sprinkling of Italian parsley.  You may want to serve with a green salad and/or garlic bread to round out the meal.  Absolutely scrumptious!

Rigatoni alla Vodka
Rigatoni alla Vodka is a rich and satisfying pasta dish - it's pretty, too.
Recipe type: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
  • 1 pound of rigatoni pasta, or another pasta shape that is similar in size and shape, like penne
  • 1 quart homemade or your favorite jarred marinara
  • ¼ cup of vodka
  • ½ cup of heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter or extra virgin olive oil to finish the sauce (optional)
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh Italian or flat-leafed parsley, chopped
  • ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated (I used Pecorino Romano)
  1. Bring 6 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Add one Tablespoon salt. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente.
  2. In a warm skillet large enough to hold all the pasta and sauce, pour the marinara sauce into the skillet. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer.
  3. Add the vodka, and stir until incorporated into the sauce.
  4. Add the heavy cream, and stir until incorporated into the sauce.
  5. If you are using butter or olive oil to finish the sauce, add it now. Swirl to distribute.
  6. Once the pasta is done, remove it from the pot using a handheld strainer or wire skimmer, and drop it directly into the sauce. If your pan is not large enough, drain the pasta in a colander, return it to your pot, and pour in the sauce.
  7. Over medium heat, cook the pasta and sauce for a minute or two to make sure all the pasta is coated. 1-2 minutes
  8. Check the seasoning. Add more salt, pepper or red pepper flakes to your taste.
  9. Sprinkle parsley, and stir until the dish is heated through.
  10. Serve in individual bowls or in one serving bowl. Be sure to sprinkle with grated cheese.
Serve with a green salad and/or garlic bread for a hearty meal. Place extra cheese at the table for anyone who wants more.

If you're looking for different pasta shapes, here's a handy guide: The Cook's Thesaurus Pasta Shapes

If you're looking for Lidia Bastianich's recipe: Penne alla Vodka