Vodka Rigatoni

Rigatoni...With Vodka Sauce

Vodka Rigatoni

What Is Vodka Rigatoni?

Vodka rigatoni is a popular Italian-American pasta dish that typically consists of rigatoni pasta cooked in a creamy tomato sauce that is flavored with vodka, onions, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes. The sauce is usually made by simmering diced onions and minced garlic in olive oil until they are soft and translucent, then adding tomato sauce, cream, and vodka. The vodka is added to the sauce for flavor, and also to help release the flavors of the tomatoes.

Ingredients For Vodka Rigatoni

Vodka Rigatoni ingredients


1 Red Onion

3 Garlic Cloves



1 Cup Heavy Cream

1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese


1/4 Cup Vodka

6 oz Tomato Paste

1/4 Cup Olive Oil

16 oz Rigatoni



1 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

1/2 tsp Paprika

1 tsp Salt

1 tsp Pepper

How To Make Vodka Rigatoni

Step 1

Cook Pasta




The key to any high-quality pasta dish is…well, quality pasta. Similar to my recipe for Hats and Broccoli, I’m getting my pasta from a local shop here in Utica, Maria’s Pasta Shop.


This is one of the few pasta dishes I’ve had that doesn’t really include a protein, so if you’re up for making some fresh pasta for this recipe, this is definitely a great opportunity!


If you aren’t fortunate to have a local pasta shop nearby and don’t plan on making the rigatoni from scratch, I would recommend using Barillas Rigatoni. It’s usually always available at most grocery stores, and really enjoy the rigged textures of their rigatoni.


Regardless of what pasta direction you go in, you’ll likely need to cook it for about 10-15 minutes, aiming to cook it al dente and allowing it to finish cooking in the skillet covered in sauce. Between getting the water to boil and cooking the rigatoni, this will be plenty of time to make your sauce. So, definitely get this step out of the way first.


When you go to strain your cooked pasta, please make sure to save some of the pasta water. This is a very, very important step in order to thin the sauce out at the very end.


You will need roughly 2/3 cup of the pasta water.

Step 2

Prep & Cook Produce


diced onions and minced garlic


Start by dicing your red onion and mincing the 3 cloves of garlic.


diced red onions


Cooking at medium heat, pour the 1/4 cup of olive oil into the skillet and cook down the red onion for about 3 minutes.


minced garlic on red onion


Once the red onions have cooked down a bit, add the minced onion to the skillet and mix thoroughly. The combination of cooked onion and garlic is one of my favorite smells to…smell. Both onion and garlic contain a complex mixture of volatile organic compounds that create a unique and appealing aroma when they are cooked together. These compounds are released when the cells of the onion and garlic are broken down, allowing enzymes to react with sulfur-containing compounds and create new compounds that are responsible for the characteristic aroma.

Step 3

Make Sauce


tomato paste


This vodka sauce recipe is one of my favorite creamy sauces to make. It’s almost like a red sauce, but the color turns closer to a orange hue, which is pretty cool!


The first step to begin turning this into a vodka sauce is adding tomato paste. This ingredient offers a concentrated, rich, and savory flavor profile that is unique to the product. When tomatoes are cooked down into a paste, the water content is reduced and the flavor becomes more concentrated. This results in a deep, umami-rich flavor that is often described as sweet, tangy, and slightly bitter.


Tomato paste also contains natural sugars and acids that contribute to its flavor profile. The sugars in tomato paste can add a touch of sweetness to a sauce, while the acids can help balance the sweetness and add a bright, tangy note.


Cooked down tomato paste


Cook down the tomato paste with the red onion and garlic on medium heat for about 3 minutes. When tomato paste is cooked in a skillet, it undergoes some changes in texture and appearance. As the paste heats up, it may begin to loosen and become easier to stir, and some of the moisture in the paste will start to evaporate.


After the tomato paste has had some time to cook, it’s time to deglaze the pan with the addition of vodka. Deglazing is the technique of adding a liquid, such as wine or broth, to a pan to lift and dissolve the caramelized bits of food that have stuck to the bottom during cooking.


The alcohol in the deglazing liquid helps to dissolve and loosen the flavorful browned bits from the bottom of the pan, which would otherwise be wasted. As the alcohol evaporates, it leaves behind its flavors and aromas in the sauce, adding a depth of flavor that cannot be achieved through other cooking methods.


In addition to adding flavor, deglazing with alcohol can also help to thicken a sauce by cooking off the alcohol and reducing the volume of the liquid. This can create a richer, more concentrated sauce that coats the food more evenly.


To begin making the vodka sauce, we will be adding my go to vodka brand, Tito’s. I’ve probably had a bit too many of these bottles throughout my lifetime, some even by the handle (not alone, I swear).




Tomato paste with vodka



Anyway, add 1/4 cup of vodka to the skillet and cook down the alcohol for another 3 minutes. This should further liquify the tomato paste, but not too much…yet.


heavy cream with tomato paste



Add in 1 cup of heavy cream to the pan and continue to cook on medium heat. Continue to stir until the sauce begins to turn orange.


Vodka Sauce



At this point, vodka sauce is starting to look yummy. However, it’s still a little thick and lacking some seasoning and freshly grated parmesan cheese to take this to the next level.

Step 4

Add Seasoning, Cheese, & Pasta


Seasoned Vodka Sauce



The only actual measurement of the seasoning I did was the crushed red chili pepper flakes, because adding to much of that could quite literally ruin this dish.


I usually measure with my eyes, but at this point, just add:


  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper


fresh grated parmesan cheese in vodka sauce



Once you’ve seasoned the vodka sauce, add in roughly 1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese.


You don’t need to use the fresh cheese if you don’t want to, but for a dish that requires few ingredients, I would definitely recommend it over the pre-grated cheese.


Fresh Parmesan cheese and pre-grated Parmesan cheese, like Kraft, can have a significant difference in terms of flavor, texture, and overall quality.


Fresh Parmesan cheese is made from high-quality milk, and its flavor is complex, nutty, and slightly salty. It has a crumbly texture that is easily grated or shaved, and it melts beautifully when added to hot dishes like pasta or risotto. Fresh Parmesan cheese is often more expensive than pre-grated cheese and can be found in specialty markets or cheese shops.


On the other hand, pre-grated Parmesan cheese, like Kraft, is often made from a blend of different hard cheeses, and it can contain fillers like cellulose or cornstarch to prevent clumping. The flavor of pre-grated Parmesan can be less complex and less intense than fresh Parmesan, and the texture can be dry and powdery, which may not melt as well when added to hot dishes.


cooked rigatoni



Once your sauce is seasoned and smothered with cheese, it’s time to add your cooked pasta. Begin stirring around the rigatoni with the vodka sauce to finalize the last few steps of the recipe.


Pasta Water



Finally, pour in about 2/3 of the pasta water to the skillet filled with rigatoni and vodka sauce.


Adding pasta water to a sauce is important because it can help to bring the sauce together and create a silky, smooth texture that clings to the pasta more effectively. Pasta water contains starches from the pasta, which can act as a natural thickener and emulsifier in the sauce.


When you cook pasta, the water it is cooked in becomes starchy and flavorful. By adding a small amount of this starchy water to your sauce, you can help to create a thick, cohesive sauce that evenly coats the pasta. The starches in the water also help to bind the sauce together, preventing it from separating or becoming too thin.


In addition to helping the sauce to adhere to the pasta, adding pasta water can also help to balance the flavors of the dish. The water contains some salt from cooking the pasta, which can help to enhance the flavors of the other ingredients in the sauce. It can also help to dilute a sauce that is too thick or rich, making it more palatable and easier to eat.


Give it a taste before plating, if it’s slightly lacking in flavor, you can season with salt and black pepper.

Step 5

Enjoy Your Vodka Rigatoni!


Vodka Rigatoni



Garnish your pasta with some extra parmesan cheese and dig in!

Sharp Objects

sharp objects


Camille’s Vodka Problem

More About Vodka Rigatoni

There can be multiple pronunciations of Vodka Rigatoni because it is an Italian dish that may be pronounced differently in different regions of Italy, and also in different parts of the world where the dish is popular.


Italian is a language with many regional variations, and different regions of Italy may have different dialects, accents, and pronunciations. This may be pronounced differently in the north of Italy than in the south, for example.


Other people refer to this recipe as “vodka a la rigatoni” because in Italian it essentially means “Vodka in the style of Rigatoni.”


The pronunciation of Italian dishes can also be influenced by the local language and accent of the region where the dish is being prepared. For example, in the United States, the pronunciation of Vodka Rigatoni may be influenced by the local dialect or accent, and may sound different than it would in Italy.


There variations in pronunciation simply due to personal preference or individual interpretation. Some people may pronounce the dish with a more Americanized accent, while others may try to adhere to a more authentic Italian pronunciation.