Carbone Spicy Rigatoni Vodka
If you are an Instagram user who followers a lot of food accounts, chances are you’ve heard of and seen drool worthy photos of Carbone’s spicy rigatoni vodka alllll over your feed. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Carbone is an upscale, Italian-American restaurant in New York City known for their upscale Italian food. They’re also known to be a pricy establishment with many celebrity clientele…their spicy rigatoni vodka lists at $32 on the menu, which is *pretty* high for a simple pasta dish. Because many of us can’t afford to drop $32 on a pasta dish (and spend hundreds of dollars for a full dinner) on the reg, I wanted to share with you how you can make this incredible dish at home for only $10 (give or take) depending on where you shop and what you already have in your cupboards.
For reference, here is the original Carbone spicy rigatoni vodka! Not trying to toot my own horn, but it looks almost identical to mine.
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You know I love to drop some history about these dishes that we all know and love, so here’s my little vodka sauce spiel. Pasta with vodka sauce is an Italian-American invention. Alcohol (vodka) is used to release the flavors from tomatoes, but in Italy, the alcohol is usually wine. Mario Carbone is the inventor of the spicy rigatoni vodka which is most likely a spin on penne alla vodka. The latter was first seen in 1974 in a cookbook by actor Ugo Tognazzi and the dish was called “pasta all’infuriata. In other words, “furious pasta,” which I find interesting because vodka sauce makes me anything but furious. It’s kind of the key to my soul and makes me super happy. I would have called it “pasta that opens the soul,” but that’s just me.
In all seriousness, the “furious” term is probably used to describe the heat of the Calabrian chiles used in spicy rigatoni vodka. These peppers are medium-hot and named after the Italian region of their origin, Calabria. Their flavor is unique and distinguished with their smoky, fruity, and slightly salty notes. In this dish, I used whole Calabrian chili peppers that I hand chopped. You can buy them pre-chopped or as chili paste, but for a nice texture, they are best hand-chopped. If you can’t find Calabrian chiles, I think you can use pepperoncinis as well. These peppers are pickled, green, and contain a little bit of heat, and sweetness. I added some to my sauce and they add a bit of tanginess and less heat. I thought it was delicious! By the way, if you can’t handle the heat, skip the peppers all together!
The sauce for spicy rigatoni vodka is a classic vodka sauce. This is a tomato-based sauce with heavy cream. The pan is glazed with vodka, picking up the golden brown bits on the bottom of the pan. So you have this bitter, intense alcohol adding flavor to your sauce and complementing the acidity of the tomatoes. It’s perfect alchemy.
In Carbone’s original version of this dish, a classic rigatoni is used. This is a large type of pasta. For my version though I chose to use conchiglie pasta. The name derives from “conchiglia”, the Italian word for seashell. This is also what the pasta looks like and its curved shape is excellent for holding sauce. But you can also go with any type of rigatoni — a rigatoni mezze for example.
Here’s one step that you can’t miss!!! For my recipe, I include a step where we “toast” the tomato paste in the pan, causing it to impart browned bits onto the pan. Brown bits = flavor. This is where you get this sweet, intensified, caramelized tomato taste. I also recommend grating or finely mincing the garlic to avoid chunks and so that it just melts away in the sauce. I made this recipe in around 30-40 minutes so it’s a quick and easy yet impressive dish to make.
Is there a vegan version of this dish?
Yes, I have a recipe for vegan gluten-free spicy rigatoni vodka which has a dairy-free, vegan version of the sauce. And to make it gluten-free you can use chickpea pasta or gluten-free rigatoni.
Do you have a non-spicy version?
If you don’t like heat, you can skip the peppers. You can chop up sun-dried tomatoes and add 1-2 teaspoons into the sauce for a deep caramelized flavor.
|2tbsp olive oil, for pan|
|1/2 white onion, finely chopped|
|Kosher salt, to taste|
|3cloves garlic, grated into a paste|
|1tsp Calabrian chili peppers, finely chopped adjust to taste if you like more heat|
|1/2cup tomato paste|
|1tbsp unsalted butter|
|1lb conchiglie (or a pasta of your choice)|
|2/3cup heavy cream|
Season a large pot or skillet with olive oil and heat on medium heat.
Add the onion. Season with a generous pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes, tossing every 1 minute or so until the onions are softened and translucent.
Add the Calabrian chili peppers and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, until fragrant.
Adjust the heat to medium high and add the tomato paste to the pan. Mix to combine with the other ingredients, then add 1 tbsp of butter into the tomato paste mixture. Let it melt, add a generous pinch of salt and stir together. Cook the tomato paste for approximately 7-9 minutes, letting the tomato paste brown on the bottom of the pan. If the pan is drying up, add a little more olive oil. Toss every 1-2 minutes or so to prevent uneven cooking.
While the tomato paste is cooking, fill a large stockpot with water and season with 3 tablespoons of kosher salt. Bring to a boil.
Pour the vodka into the pan, over top of the tomato paste and scrape up all golden brown bits from the bottom. Mix all of the ingredients together. Adjust the heat to low and add the heavy cream. Stir until combined and let it simmer on low heat.
If you want it super spicy, you can add 2-3 tsp peppers. If you want a smooth sauce without the onion/pepper texture, use an immersion blender to blend the sauce before adding the pasta.
For a vegan, gluten-free option you can try my vegan gluten-free spicy rigatoni vodka.
We made this for Valentines Dinner and it was beyond amazing, my husband was blown away!! We didn’t have Chili Peppers, so we did sun dried tomatoes and crush red pepper flakes, but next time we will crack up the heat. Highly recommend this recipe!!
This is insanely delicious! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!! I followed the directions precisely and used rigatoni, we crushed the entire box of pasta. Thank This is also the only pasta dish my husband has ever been impressed by and I’m Italian lol thanks again!
Is this cooked long enough for the alcohol to be cooked off of the vodka? Lol. Silly question. I’m pregnant & we had a toddler to feed as well.
Can’t wait to make this! Do you use peppers from a jar or fresh?
The use of vodka in an Italian tomato sauce has to be understood in terms of culinary alchemy…. It is imperative that the vodka be completely cooked out and there should be no trace of alcohol in the sauce//you’re not making a cocktail here… You are creating something more magical _ you are extracting glutamates ( umami ) from the tomatoes and the other ingredients in the sauce. Someone mentioned they were pregnant and asked about cooking out the vodka………. There’s your answer!
10 stars!! I have shared this recipe with anyone who will listen. We added ground beef for a protein and was absolutely wonderful. We have made it twice In the last two weeks!
Wow. This is an EXACT copy of the Carbone recipe. I didn’t have to change a thing! Now we don’t have to drive to Vegas just to have this pasta. Thank you so much!!_x000D_
Side note: It doubles excellently. No changes needed, other than doubling the ingredients.
This was so so good. Mine was not as “saucey” or liquidy as the Carbon, but it was so perfect.
Exactly like we had at Carbone! This pasta is so good!
It’s absolutely the best! Thank you Skyler for the recipe! _x000D_
Its perfect as it is but sometimes I add crumbled Italian sausage and green peas.
Really good!! Made this as part of a Valentines Day dinner and it was delicious—incredibly similar to Carbone’s pasta too!! My husband kept asking for more. Thanks for this recipe!!
I’ll never get a reservation at carbone, so I can’t compare this to that… but it was absolutely decadent and amazing! Will definitely make this again!!! Thank you 🙂
This is the one. Like, identical. Picked up fresh Lumache pasta from the italian market and it was freakin’ perfect.
Cooking notes: I substituted onion for a very finely diced shallot. Adding a few tablespoons of water right as they started to color, then letting that water evaporate before adding garlic/chili helped soften the shallot and create a smoother final product. Extra tbs of butter at the end helped bring out that glossy shine, too.
The BEST on the internet. I have made this over 10 times over the past year and had to come leave a review because I saw it posted on tiktok. HUGE fan!!!
What if I don’t have have Calabrian chili peppers?!?