Warming Winter Comfort Food: Spaghetti with Spicy Vodka Sauce


When there is a chill in the air, there is nothing like pasta with a creamy, decadent vodka sauce to warm your bones and satisfy your cravings.  This recipe for vodka sauce, perhaps the most flavorful version I have tasted, is accented with delicious pancetta, Italian salt-cured bacon, which adds both texture and tremendous flavor.  But, don’t worry, vegetarians–it will still be delicious if you omit the pancetta.  And if you really want to bring this dish to stellar heights of gastronomic pleasure, add pan-seared jumbo shrimp to the pasta before serving.  Any way you make it, this dish is true comfort food, and is likely to be a big hit with your special friends and family.  Enjoy the pasta with a small baby arugula and fennel salad, and a glass or two of Chianti or Nebbiolo.

And that’s amrita’s table!


Spaghetti with Spicy Vodka Sauce

serves 6 to 8




2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

6 oz. pancetta, cut into 1/3” cubes

1 yellow onion, chopped finely

4 to 5 cloves garlic, chopped finely

2 teaspoons crushed red chile flakes (this amount makes the sauce medium-hot, which I think works well with the balance of flavors, but if you like, adjust the amount according to your taste)

1 cup vodka

two 28 oz. cans peeled whole tomatoes, like San Marzano or Muir Glen


2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

freshly cracked black pepper

1 1/4 teaspoon sugar


3 sprigs fresh oregano

3 sprigs fresh basil

3 sprigs fresh Italian parsley

cotton twine


2/3 to 1 cup heavy cream


1 1/2 lbs. dried spaghetti


1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, cut into small ribbons

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves


for garnishing:

grated Pecorino Romano

fresh oregano sprigs


Pulse canned tomatoes, one can at a time, in a blender for a few seconds until pureed. Set aside.

Place a large pot over medium-high heat. After about a minute, add olive oil, and when it begins to shimmer, add the pancetta cubes, stirring them to coat. Lower heat to medium, allowing pancetta to render most of its fat and begin to brown, stirring frequently to cook it evenly.


When pancetta is mostly crispy and brown, add the onion, stirring to coat. Let onion cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent and beginning to get tender and lightly golden.


Add the garlic, stirring to coat, and allow it to cook for about a minute. Add chile flakes, stirring, and allow them to cook for about 30 seconds.

Deglaze pot with vodka. Raise heat to high, and let vodka reduce by about half, around three or four minutes.

Add pureed tomatoes, salt, black pepper and sugar.  Tie herb sprigs together with the cotton twine, and drop it into the sauce.  Stir to combine, and submerge herb bundle.


When sauce comes to the boil, lower it to a simmer, partially cover it, and allow it to cook for about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring every few minutes to prevent scorching, until flavors are well incorporated, and sauce is thickened.


After about 25 minutes, while the sauce is still simmering, put up a large pot 3/4 filled with salted water (about 6 quarts water with 2 1/2 tablespoons fine salt or 4 tablespoons kosher salt) to boil over high heat. When pasta water has come to a full boil, add the spaghetti, separating strands, and allow it to boil, stirring occasionally, until it is al dente.

While pasta is cooking, remove herb bundle from the sauce and discard it. Add heavy cream to the vodka sauce, stir, and allow sauce to simmer for a few more minutes. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. Transfer sauce to a very large sauté pan (or do it in two batches) over medium-high heat.


Using tongs to remove al dente pasta from the water, toss the pasta into the sauce in the pan, and sauté it over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes, until pasta has absorbed the sauce. Add the fresh chopped herbs, and heap it onto individual plates, or serve family style in a large bowl, or on a large platter. Sprinkle generously with grated Pecorino Romano. Serve.


How did yours turn out?  Any questions??