Spicy Calabrian Chili Vodka Sauce is an upgraded, slightly more elegant version of traditional Penne alla Vodka. It has simple flavors of tomato, Calabrian chilis, and creme fraiche. And it utilizes vodka as a deglazing liquid and subtle sweetener.
Ingredients in Spicy Calabrian Chili Vodka Sauce
Crushed Calabrian Chili Peppers
It makes sense for vodka sauce to be spicy. Calabrian chili peppers help cut through some of the inherent creaminess of the dish. My go-to Calabrian chili brand is Trader Joe's "Italian Bomba Sauce." Its use of crushed, fermented Calabrian chili peppers gives them a more complex flavor than regular pickled or oil-packed peppers.
Use whatever brand of crushed Calabrian chili peppers you like. Here are some options you can buy on Amazon if you can't find them in stores...
I've met many people over the years who never realized that penne alla vodka actually has vodka in it! It does indeed. The vodka plays 2 roles in this sauce:
- Deglazes the pan
- Adds a subtly sweet flavor to the sauce.
Any alcohol can play these 2 roles, but vodka does it in a very subtle, not overpowering, way.
The tomato flavor in most vodka sauces comes from tomato paste, not crushed or fresh tomatoes. I feel that this is the defining factor that qualifies vodka sauce as a vodka sauce... Aside from the vodka, I guess?
Therefore, this spicy Calabrian chili vodka sauce also calls for tomato paste, and not canned tomatoes.
Creme Fraiche in Spicy Vodka Sauce
In order to truly improve upon the basic flavor profile of traditional vodka sauce, I've come to realize that heavy cream needs to go. It's simply not flavorful enough and overpowers the dish with an overt "cream" taste.
Therefore, creme fraiche replaces heavy cream for 2 reasons:
- Its rich creaminess and acidic, tart taste. Creme fraiche is actually quite similar to sour cream, but even smoother and creamier. Its tartness adds a delightful flavor to the spicy vodka sauce.
- Creme fraiche doesn't curdle in a hot pan. The sauce will stay luscious and creamy without breaking.
If you've never cooked with creme fraiche before, I suggest making this recipe ASAP. It provides a perfect balance between new and interesting, and familiar flavors.
If you really hate peas, leave them out. However, I firmly believe they're an incredible addition anyone can learn to appreciate. They add color, texture, and brightness to this rich, creamy dish.
As the traditional name suggests, penne is the most common type of pasta for making penne alla vodka. Some other options are farfalle, cascatelli, mezze rigatoni, mafaldine (pictured below) or any other pasta that has grooves for catching peas.
Tools needed to make Spicy Calabrian Chili Vodka Sauce
Pasta Spider for making this Spicy Vodka Sauce
My favorite pasta spider only costs $9, but it's worth its weight in pasta. It is absolutely crucial for streamlining the cooking process of any pasta dish that requires you to use pasta water to create the final sauce.
It removes the step of reserving pasta water and then dumping the hot pasta into a colander. Instead, it allows you do transfer the pasta straight from the boiling water to the sauce. Plus, you can also use it for other tasks such as deep frying and blanching.
A Good Saute Pan
The first step to making this Spicy Calabrian Chili Vodka Sauce is to sauté the alliums. In fact, each step of the process requires some level of sautéing. I love my All-Clad sauté pan more than most other items in my home. It's incredibly sturdy, heats up quickly and evenly, and lasts forever.
Buy one jar and get three simple recipes out of it:
Plus you can incorporate them into your daily cooking without a recipe, which I wrote about here, 8 Uses for Calabrian Chili Peppers.
This Spicy Vodka Sauce made with farfalle and peas is an elevated version of traditional vodka sauce that you can make any night of the week.
- 1 lb farfalle pasta (bowtie shape)
- ½ yellow onion, finely diced
- ¼ fennel bulb, finely diced
- ⅔ cup vodka
- 4 Tb tomato paste
- 1Tb crushed Calabrian chili peppers or Italian Bomba Sauce
- ½ cup creme fraiche
- olive oil
- Grated parmesan cheese for serving
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and season it heavily with salt. While the water boils, dice the onion and fennel.
- Once the water is boiling, drop your pasta into the boiling water and cook for 8 minutes (set a timer).
- While the pasta is cooking, heat a separate saucepan with approximately 3 Tb olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onions and fennel, seasoned with salt and pepper, for 3-5 minutes until soft and starting to turn golden.
- Stir in the Calabrian chili peppers and tomato paste and continue to sauté for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently until the mixture turns dark red and some of it sticks and browns against the bottom fo the pan.
- Turn off the heat, add the vodka, and immediately turn the heat back on. Stir and cook until most of the vodka has evaporated. Add the creme fraiche and stir to combine. At this point, the pasta should have been cooking for about 8 minutes. If it has not been a full 8 minutes, turn off the sauce's heat and wait for pasta timer to sound.
- Once pasta has cooked for 8 minutes, return the sauce to medium-high heat and add the peas. Using a pasta spider, transfer pasta directly from boiling water into the sauce, along with ⅓ cup of pasta water and stir until thickened. Continue adding ⅓ cup of pasta water to the pasta and stirring until thickened until pasta is fully cooked to your liking.
- Serve. Top with parmesan cheese as desired.
Keywords: Spicy Vodka Sauce, farfalle alla vodka, vodka sauce with peas