I remember the first time I tried the pink, creamy, tomato-based deliciousness that is vodka sauce. Many moons ago, at the age of 22, I arrived in New York City with no more than a couple of suitcases to begin my internship at CBS News. My parents came with me to help me get set up and send me into the world of adulthood, and also to take me out on the town.
On the first night in New York, they took me to the magical, but now defunct, Mangia e Bevi in the theater district. This boisterous restaurant was legendary for being insanely loud, crazy, and super fun. The wait staff encouraged dancing on tables, singing loudly, and generally allowed you to have as much fun as possible, no matter how crazy it got. If you were looking for a romantic date restaurant, this was not it. But if you wanted to have a really good time, you found your spot at Mangia e Bevi.
I remember having so much fun that I nearly forget about the food. When I finally peeked at the menu, I noticed a strange menu item: vodka sauce. At the time, it was only a well-known sauce in very Italian communities. I had never heard of it, so I took a chance. And guess what? It was one of the best pasta dishes I had ever eaten.
Since then, I have been obsessed with vodka sauce because it’s tangy and tomato-y, but also creamy and silky. I order it in restaurants, cook it at home, dream about it. Once you try vodka sauce, it’s pretty hard not to obsess about it, so tread carefully.
2 Tbsp. butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ c. vodka
¼ c. tomato paste
¾ c. heavy cream
¼ c. pasta water
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, for topping
Cook pasta according to package directions and drain, setting aside ¼ c. pasta water for later use.
In the meantime, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the shallots and cook until fragrant, translucent and slightly brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Add the vodka, mix, and then turn down the heat to medium low. Whisk in the tomato paste until the mixture is smooth. Add the cream and pasta water, along with the basil, and whisk until smooth and cooked through.
Season with salt and pepper. Mix the sauce and pasta together in a bowl until combined. Top with additional fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.