Sunday Suppers: How to Make Vodka Sauce, With a Huge Assist from Fabio and Giada

I asked which Sunday Supper you’d prefer today, and after a close race, Vodka Sauce inched out Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Chowder.  Worry not, the chowder will be up soon. For now, though, enjoy the Vodka Sauce. We certainly did.

how to make vodka sauceHere’s the thing: When it comes to cooking and baking, I’m a bit of a loner. A go-it-on-my-owner.  An I’ve-seen-it-before-let-me-figure-it-outer.  I do find inspiration in cookbooks, cooking magazines and online, but I haven’t watched Televised Cooking Heads to gain inspiration in a long time. I tend to stay Far Away from The Food Network and their Ilk, mainly because I think all these cooking networks tend to have the Paradoxical Effect of making people even more intimidated to cook than they already are. I could be way off base, but there you have it.

But I have just discovered Fabio Viviani on the Yahoo Cooking Channel (or something like that). He apparently rides a scooter. He doesn’t give out Scary Recipes but rather is a bit of a gunslinger cook a lá Jamie Oliver. And he gets really excited about food. The other day, I saw him make marinara sauce.  Five ingredients with a very important sixth ingredient: time. Time to let the oil infuse with garlic flavor. Time to let the garlic get Just Golden Enough. Time to let the juices from the tomatoes reduce, sweeten and caramelize. He said it was magic, and I believed him.

vodka sauce 001Leftover Magical Marinara–the Perfect base for vodka sauce.

I made Fabio’s Magical Marinara the other evening with one 28-oz can of Italian San Marzano tomatoes, 3 cloves of garlic, a boat load of olive oil and some salt and pepper. That was it. I generally add a bit of fish sauce and sugar/balsamic to my “usual” marinara/tomato sauce, but after trying Fabio’s method, I understand why they aren’t necessary. As long as you give the sauce enough time to reduce, you’ll get plenty of umami goodness without the fish sauce and plenty of sweetness just from the caramelized tomato and garlic. Seriously–it doesn’t even need any herbs, although some fresh herbs added at service probably would be Most Welcome.

I made his marinara sauce in order to turn it into vodka sauce, although I did feed some Straight Up to The Beloved with spaghetti. (He loved it, by the way). Vodka sauce is My Favorite.  Today, anyway. The vodka coaxes out some lovely, complex alcohol-soluble flavors in the tomatoes and aromatics.  It is always silky smooth and unctuous, perfectly coating every piece of pasta on the plate. Unlike “spaghetti with meat sauce” which is naked noodles with some sauce ladled on top, penne (the usual shape) with vodka sauce, or Penne alla Vodka is always served with every bite enrobed in luscious sauce. Hooray!

After doing a bit of research on how to make vodka sauce (thanks, Giada), it seems that any marinara can be used as the base, to which a Certain Amount of vodka, cream and parmesan cheese are added.  The best vodka sauce I’ve ever had, up until last night, was at a local New York-Style Italian place called La Piazza.  I think that La Piazza’s vodka sauce is Amazing because they use their marinara as the base, and it is an Excellent Marinara.

For dinner last night, I took the leftover marinara from the night before and turned it into vodka sauce using roughly the proportions in Giada’s recipe. I’m not going to write this up as a recipe because it’s really more of a technique. Make your marinara with onions and/or shallots and/or garlic.  Add some roasted peppers to it or maybe some capers.  Once you’re happy with your marinara, you can tweak it however you want to make the vodka sauce–use more vodka or less, more cream or less, more cheese or less.

For me–tomorrow I’m making a huge batch of the Fabio-esque marinara and turning half of it into Giada-esque vodka sauce. We’ll be set for Italian Goodness for weeks!  If you’d like to Give it a Go, watch Fabio’s video. You owe it to yourself to taste pure tomato goodness unadulterated by anything but heightened by garlicky olive oil and salt and pepper. Then, here’s how you turn it (or any other marinara) into vodka sauce.

Giada-esque Proportions for Vodka Sauce

  • 4 parts marinara sauce
  • 1 part vodka (by volume)
  • 1/2 part cream (by volume)
  • 1/4 part grated Parmesan (by volume)
  • a few hot pepper flakes (optional, but lovely)
  • salt and pepper, to taste (if necessary–mine didn’t need any more salt after adding the cheese but I did grind in a bit more black pepper)

Here’s What You Do

vodka sauce 006Start with roughly 4 parts marinara to 1 part vodka.

Bring marinara and vodka to a boil. Simmer and reduce until it is at the original volume of the marinara. So, if you started with 2 cups of marinara and added 1/2 cup of vodka, you’ll simmer until your total volume is back to 2 cups.

vodka sauce 005See? Here’s how much I had after I reduced the sauce and the vodka.


vodka sauce 017Add the cream and pepper flake and puree until smooth. (I used an immersion blender, but you can certainly use a blender-blender).

vodka sauce 024Stir in the Parmesan.

Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

To serve with penne or Whatever, cook the pasta for 2 fewer minutes than package directions.  Drain, reserving a bit of pasta cooking water.

vodka sauce 025Dump in enough vodka sauce to coat all the pasta, but you don’t want it swimming in it. This is pretty rich stuff.

Stir over high heat for two minutes. Plate and serve.

vodka sauce 030This is now my favorite vodka sauce. Seriously. In this case, the one-two Fabio-Giada punch is hard to beat. Try both the marinara (a revelation for me) and the vodka sauce (sexy silkiness). You’ll be Very Happy that you did. Enjoy, and have a lovely day.

Looking for another way to enjoy your luscious vodka sauce? Try it as a pizza sauce like I did in my Vodka Sauce Grandma Pizza Recipe. sauce grandma pizza recipe 1a


    • says

      Good question! But I’ve never had anything there that isn’t great! I love the Sicilian pizza and that Pasta La Piazza or something that has sundried tomatoes and sausage in it. Sooo good!


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