Spicy Vodka Bucatini with Sausage

I’ve never met a spicy pasta dish I didn’t like but in terms of favorites, this one takes the cake. Inspired by my all-time favorite pasta dish at Jon & Vinny’s, the vodka sauce is easy to make and 100% better than anything you can buy in a jar. Pair it with a bottle of a light pinot noir and that’s the kind of Friday evening I always want to have.

Serves four.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb italian sausage
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 1 cup half and half (don’t sub for milk)
  • 1-2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes*
  • Fine sea salt
  • 1 pound bucatini
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Grated parmesan
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves

*Note: if you have a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle, I highly rec grinding the red pepper flakes before adding them to the sauce in the recipe. They incorporate into the sauce much more evenly and give you a more consistent spice with each bite.

Directions:

  1. Add 1 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove the sausage from the casing, crumble, and add sausage to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up with a wooden spoon, until the sausage is browned, approx 6-8 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the sausage from the pan onto a plate and set aside.
  2. Return the saucepan to the stove, letting the pan cool for a few minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally until softened and translucent, approx 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
  3. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until the paste is a dark brick red color, approx. 4-5 minutes. Add the vodka and whisk constantly until most of the liquid is evaporated, approx 2 minutes.
  4. Whisk in the cream and red pepper flakes until everything is well incorporated. Season with salt to taste (I normally start with 1/2 tsp). Remove from heat, add the sausage back into the sauce, and cover the sauce with a lid to keep warm.
  5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta to package directions until al dente. Drain, and reserve 1 cup pasta water.
  6. Add the pasta into the skillet with the sauce, along with the butter and 1/2 cup pasta water. Turn the heat back onto low, and cook, stirring constantly, until the butter has melted and the sauce turns glossy and coats the noodles. Add the remaining 1/2 cup pasta water if needed – I normally do – the pasta sauce will congeal a bit once you serve it and it starts to cool, so I always err on the side of having the pasta sauce be a bit thinner while it’s still in the pan.
  7. Chiffonade the basil (aka roll up the leaves and thinly slice).
  8. Divide pasta among bowls, then top with basil chiffonade and grated parmesan. Top with more red pepper flakes if desired. Serve immediately.

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