A few years ago, not long after of my Hamburger Helper college days of yore, I read a blog post in which the author said she made spaghetti with jarred sauce and added, “Don’t judge! I didn’t have a lot of time!”
In response I thought... there are ways to make spaghetti without jarred sauce? Or any kind of pasta sauce, really? From scratch? People do that? On a regular basis?
I was stunned. And schooled.
Nowadays, I cook regularly (with no Hamburger Helper in sight), and yet, I still almost always make spaghetti with jarred sauce. I routinely use jarred pizza sauce (homemade is better but I don’t have the time) and jarred alfredo sauce, too. Let’s be straight: making sauces from scratch takes time and doesn’t always taste better.
So if you skip this recipe for vodka cream sauce, inspired by this Rachel Ray recipe, and instead grab the Newman’s Own or even the store brand vodka sauce, I shall not judge. You are normal. I promise.
If on the other hand, you have the time and effort to spare? This is super tasty.
Start with a spoonful of minced garlic (or mince two cloves, if you have even more time) and sauté in a tablespoon of olive oil plus a tablespoon of butter over medium heat.
Don’t leave it unattended... it goes from “delicious” to “bitter burnt ahhh get this out of my dish” in a hot minute.
Then add a cup of vodka. I used Smirnoff, as it’s the only sort of vodka I’ve purchased since those Hamburger-Helper eating college days.
Almost forgot! If you’re using dried onion like me, add that too and bring it to a simmer. If you, again, are a responsible person that dices your own produce on a weeknight, then by all means, dice it up and sauté it with the garlic.
Pro tip: Also turn on the stove’s ventilation fan, so your house doesn’t start to smell like some neighborhood full of old eastern-European restaurants (though, not gonna lie, it’s kinda unavoidable).
After a few stinky minutes, it’s reduced!
Then add a cup of chicken broth and a large can of crushed tomatoes. The original source calls for 32 ounces, but my can was just 28. Oh well.
Bring it to a bubble, then let it simmer! Don’t forget some salt and pepper at this point. I also added some crushed red pepper, for a little kick, and added some dried basil, because I didn’t have the twenty basil leaves the source called for.
(PS red sauce is incredibly hard to white-balance, forgive me.)
Ideally, the sauce should simmer at least twenty minutes. Considering that’s at least how long it takes my stove to boil a pot of water and then boil the pasta, that works out nicely. Oh, and for homemade pasta sauce... totally go for the brand-name pasta. Barilla, I heart you.
Once the pasta’s done, the sauce should have noticeably thickened. Then it’s time to turn down the heat and add the cream! I went with half a cup of half-and-half, because I wanted to reduce calories. (Not really. I couldn’t find the heavy cream at the store. I am dumb sometimes.) And in retrospect, limiting the cream to half a cup per the source was good for calories, but I would probably add three-quarters of a cup next time to make it creamier.
Unfortunately, I had the weensiest bit of curdling because I didn’t use heavy cream, but ehh. You can’t even really see it in the photo, and you definitely can’t tell when it’s all stirred together with the pasta. And anyway, it’s just a sign that you made homemade sauce, not the jarred stuff!
Keep heating until it just starts to bubble again, then turn off the heat and add in the pasta:
Then stir it all together, and pat yourself on the back for spending a half hour making a sauce that you could have poured out of a jar!
Well. How was it? Delicious! More delicious than the jarred stuff, such that I’ll give up purchasing it? Ehhh. Homemade vodka sauce has more flavor and tastes fresher than the jarred sauce (even using canned tomatoes), but it’s still a luxury for when you have a little extra time or extra need to impress.
So yes, I’ll make this again (because topped with a little parmesan? So excellent!). But I’ll also purchased jarred sauce again. And I’m happy either way! Hope you are too, dear readers. Enjoy!