Spicy Rigatoni Vodka

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Spicy rigatoni alla vodka hits the jackpot for flavor! Tender rigatoni pasta gets tossed in creamy tomato sauce with a splash (or two) of vodka and zesty red pepper flakes. If you’ve ever tried Italian-American restaurant Carbone’s spicy rigatoni vodka, you’ll love this homemade version.

I love easy pasta dinners like this rigatoni vodka pasta and creamy lemon pasta, which I can have on the table in 20 minutes. Just add a side of breadsticks!

Overhead view of spicy rigatoni alla vodka garnished with chopped parsley in a large skillet, with a wooden spoon and small bowls of garnishes on the side.


 

I’m not sure what the Italians thought when they decided a shot of vodka belonged in a pot of creamy tomato pasta sauce, but I’m glad they did. Just a splash is all it takes to tie this vodka sauce together, from the caramelized shallots to the tangy tomato paste and tingly red pepper flakes.

I can’t wait for our next date night in because this spicy rigatoni vodka is perfect. Goce, my pasta-loving husband, is going to be thrilled! Meanwhile, I’ll be looking for an excuse to entertain. You can bet this easy pasta will be on the menu!

Why I Love This Spicy Rigatoni alla Vodka Recipe

Ready in 20 minutes. Aside from boiling the pasta separately, you can make this rigatoni vodka recipe in one pan on the stovetop in 20 minutes or less. 

Zesty and creamy. I love the zing of chili flakes in my favorite homemade vodka sauce. It’s easy to adapt if you’d prefer your sauce milder or more spicy. Meanwhile, this sauce turns out SO silky thanks to a little vodka magic and a good amount of heavy cream. I think we’re all in agreement that carbs take a hall pass on pasta night.

Date night approved. I don’t know if it’s the color of the sauce (red is the color of love, after all), but I can’t think of a better dinner-for-two pasta dish than this spicy rigatoni vodka with a side of filet mignon! And even better, you’ll have leftovers for lunch!

Ingredients for spicy rigatoni alla vodka with text labels overlaying each ingredient.

What You’ll Need

This spicy rigatoni alla vodka is part pasta arrabbiata, part creamy tomato pasta, and 100% easy to make with simple ingredients. Find some quick notes below. Be sure to scroll to the recipe card after the post for a printable ingredients list with amounts.

  • Rigatoni – I love rigatoni or mezzi (smaller rigatoni) in recipes like this because the little tube shapes get coated with sauce inside and out. But you can use any pasta you have in the cupboard. For best results, though, try to substitute a similar pasta with ridges, like penne.
  • Olive Oil – For sautéeing.
  • Shallot – Or another mild onion, like yellow onion.
  • Garlic – Freshly minced. Garlic powder can be used if fresh garlic isn’t available.
  • Tomato Paste – This can be substituted with tomato puree or tomato sauce in a pinch.
  • Butter – A couple of knobs of butter give the sauce extra richness. You can skip this if you’d like.
  • Red Pepper Flakes – Crushed red pepper flakes are always my first choice, but you can replace dried flakes with crushed Calabrian chilis or chili paste, like the Carbone recipe. Adapt the amount to taste.
  • Vodka – The game-changer! You don’t need to use the top-shelf stuff, but I always recommend cooking with alcohol that you’d like to drink. And while it technically won’t be alla vodka, you can substitute vodka in this sauce if needed. More on this below.
  • Heavy Cream – You can use whole milk instead or half & half, but the sauce won’t be quite as silky.
  • Parmesan – For the love of flavor, please use freshly grated!
  • Seasonings – Salt and pepper, plus fresh parsley for garnish.
Close-up photo of cooked tube pasta in a spicy vodka sauce and garnished with chopped parsley.

What Does Alla Vodka Mean?

As you can see, rigatoni alla vodka is mostly tomato sauce with the addition of cream, vodka, and in this case, red pepper flakes. The cream softens the tanginess of the vodka and kick from the chilis, and gives the sauce its iconic pink-orange color.

While vodka sauce’s origins are a little fuzzy, some say that the original recipe, penne alla vodka, originated in Bologna, Italy. Which just so happens to be the hometown of another favorite of mine, Bolognese sauce! Forget pasta night, I’m sensing a pasta WEEK coming on.

Can I Substitute the Vodka?

Sure, and your sauce will still turn out tasty. If you need to replace the vodka in your vodka sauce, gin or dry white white are good substitutes. Chicken broth can also be used if you’d prefer to make your sauce alcohol-free. 

How to Make Spicy Rigatoni Vodka

Let’s get cooking! Light the candles, pour yourself a glass of cool rosé (or shake yourself a martini while the vodka’s out), and follow along with the short recipe notes outlined here. You’ll find printable instructions in the recipe card.

  1. Cook your pasta. Start by cooking the rigatoni in salted boiling water. Aim for al dente, meaning firm with a little bite. Before you drain the pasta– very important– scoop out 1 cup of the pasta water and set this aside for the sauce. 
  2. Prepare the sauce. Drain the pasta, and get shallots and garlic sauteeing in a skillet. Add tomato paste and butter, and stir in the red pepper flakes. 
  3. Finish the sauce. After that’s cooked off a little, you’ll pour in the vodka to deglaze the pan. Lastly, whisk in the heavy cream and parmesan cheese. You’ll want to do this over low heat so that the dairy doesn’t split.
  4. Put it all together. Toss your cooked rigatoni right in the skillet with the sauce. Drizzle in a little pasta water, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with fresh parsley. Buon appetito!
Photo of cooked tube pasta in a skillet with a wooden spoon stirring through it.

Recipe Tips

My top tips for cooking the best rigatoni alla vodka come down to how you cook your pasta:

  • Salt the pasta water. The key to perfectly seasoned pasta is well-seasoned pasta water. Ask any Nonna from Italy, and she’ll tell you, that the water used to cook pasta should be salty like the Mediterranean Sea. I recommend adding anywhere between 1-3 tablespoons depending on how much water is in the pot. Also, pro tip: You can use any inexpensive table salt for this. Save your fancy sea salt for finishing!
  • Save the pasta water. Reserve at least 1 cup of the water you used to boil your pasta before you chuck the rest out. If you need to thin out the sauce, doing so with pasta water is the best way to bring your vodka sauce together without compromising flavor. The starches in the water emulsify with the other ingredients, and the salt helps build up the flavor.
  • Don’t overcook. Make sure to cook the rigatoni until it’s just al dente. You want the inside to be a little firm while the outside has some give. Follow the directions on the package, as not all pasta brands cook the same. And, do your best not to overcook the noodles, as they’ll become mushy.

Serving Suggestions

This spicy rigatoni vodka is the perfect meatless dish just begging to be devoured with a side of focaccia and a glass of your favorite wine. Usually, all we need to round out a meal is a sharing-sized chef’s salad, or this Mediterranean salad with roasted sweet corn and chickpeas.

If you’d prefer a cooked veggie side, try lemon butter green beans or sautéed broccolini. This rigatoni alla vodka is delicious in any season, whether we’re entertaining on a chilly winter evening or dining outdoors in the summer!

Rigatoni pasta served in a bowl with a fork.

Storing and Reheating Leftovers

Keep leftover rigatoni in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Usually, I’m not too fond of freezing pasta recipes, especially ones with cream in the sauce, since the dairy tends to split once it’s thawed.

To reheat, warm your leftovers in a saucepan on the stovetop with a sprinkle of water to help loosen the sauce. You can also reheat this pasta in the microwave in 30-second increments.

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Spicy Rigatoni Vodka

This spicy rigatoni vodka has tender pasta tossed in creamy tomato sauce with vodka and tingly red pepper flakes. Easy enough to make on weeknights!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 6 servings

Ingredients 

  • water, to cook the pasta
  • 1 teaspoon salt, for the pasta water
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
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Instructions 

  • Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the teaspoon of salt to the boiling water, followed by the rigatoni. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Once cooked, drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water. Set aside.
  • Saute the aromatics. In a large skillet or saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for 15 seconds or until fragrant.
  • Build flavor. Stir in the tomato paste, butter, and red pepper flakes. Saute for 2-3 minutes until the tomato paste has darkened in color.
  • Deglaze. Pour the vodka into the skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally to knock any brown bits off of the bottom of the pan.
  • Make it creamy. Whisk in the heavy cream and let the sauce simmer for a few minutes.
  • Make it cheesy. Turn the heat to low and add the cheese. Stir until melted.
  • Put it all together. Add the cooked rigatoni to the skillet. Toss to coat the pasta. If the sauce is too thick, stir in a bit of the reserved pasta water to thin it out. Turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve. Serve warm garnished with fresh parsley.

Nutrition

Serving: 8ounces | Calories: 569kcal | Carbohydrates: 63g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 65mg | Sodium: 725mg | Potassium: 396mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 1.322IU | Vitamin C: 7mg | Calcium: 157mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutritional info is an estimate and provided as courtesy. Values may vary according to the ingredients and tools used. Please use your preferred nutritional calculator for more detailed info.

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