Saturday, January 20, 2018

Rigatoni with Sausage in Vodka Cream Sauce

Back in 2015, we took an incredible trip to Tuscany. We rented a villa high in the mountains over Florence. The only way to get to the villa was by a single lane dirt road, made terrifying by very sharp switchbacks and precipitous cliffs. If you encountered another vehicle, one of you had to back-up to a space that would allow two vehicles to pass each other.

Because of the dangers of driving that road, we never went out at night. We would hit the market during the day, buying fresh food and incredible wine for our dinner each night. The villa had a ready abundance of ingredients...all of the shrubs were rosemary and fresh lemons grew on small lemon trees next to the pool. Every dinner was a complete joy and the company was extraordinary...Becky and I, Scott and Debbie Drill and Steve and Taffy Hirtz.

It was on this trip that I became completely addicted to San Marzano tomatoes. While we were there, we bought them fresh at the market. They are grown in volcanic soil in the area around Naples. They are remarkable because of their uniqueness. The flesh is thick...there are literally no seeds...and they are much less acidic than other tomatoes. But their crowning glory is that they are sweet.

Now I buy them from Amazon (two cases at a time). If any recipe calls for tomatoes, I only use San Marzano tomatoes. They come whole, so it is very easy to dice or puree or chop them based on what the recipe calls for. I can't imagine using ordinary tomatoes in a recipe again. They are one of life's simple pleasures that cost just a few cents more than regular tomatoes.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound bulk hot Italian sausage
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
2 tablespoons vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
16 ounces of rigatoni
Basil leaves, cut into ribbons
Parmesan cheese
Salt, fresh ground pepper and sugar


  1. Heat oil in a large sauce pan over medium high heat. When oil starts to shimmer, add sausage, breaking and crumbling it as it cooks until no pink remains.
  2. Add garlic to sausage and cook for one minute.
  3. Reduce heat to medium. Add the tomatoes and their liquid to the pan with a good pinch of sugar.  Add salt and pepper to taste. breaking up tomatoes with your spatula and let them cook down for 10 minutes.
  4. In a large pot of boiling salted water, add pasta and cook until al dente.
  5. When pasta is done and tomatoes are cooked down, strain pasta and add to pan. Then toss with sausage and tomato sauce. Then add vodka and cream. Toss again.
  6. Serve with basil ribbons and parmesan.

Wine pairing: If you are over in Italy and just picked up your new Ferrari 488 GTO at the factory in Maranello, pick up a bottle of Gaja Barbaresco... a 1985 would fit the bill nicely. If you are in Florence in your rented Fiat Uno, try a Nada Fiorenzo Barbaresco.

Me and Goldie, 1956

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