About 35 years ago Vodka tomato sauce was all the rage in the American gourmet scene and there is evidence of its popularity in Italy before that time. Regardless of its origin, the online consensus seems to be that the alchemy of alcohol works to draw flavor from tomatoes for a subtle, overall “je ne sais quoi” result. It’s kind of a nebulous thing really cuz the more we read about vodka sauce, the more inconclusive our findings around its history, raison d’etre, and method of cooking.
For keeners who’d like to know more about vodka sauce there are good resources in two discussions found here and here on the Chowhound forum. There is some difference of opinion about whether to add the vodka early and allow it to cook off — or add it later, when it might imbue a hint of flavor. I say, “Why not compromise and do both?!”
My own recipe below is loosely based on research but also builds on a deep-seated personal preference for the surprising savoriness that comes when tomato gets cozy with rosemary. (As seen in this tomato soup recipe from 2009.) It’s best to have no expectations as you approach making this sauce. No, you won’t taste the vodka but it’s there, working its subtle charm on the tomatoes. Each ingredient works well with the others and there is no added liquid except for vodka. By following the recipe exactly we end up with a sauce that is thin enough to get into all the nooks and crannies of our favorite pasta or vegetables.
This is how I prefer it: made from a bounty of soft, juicy, flavorful, sun-ripened garden tomatoes that results in a thinner more “soupy” sauce. But you can of course achieve a thicker result by using firm Roma tomatoes or a mix of both types. And if you want it thicker than that, go ahead and cook longer to reduce it even further before adding cream.
Try with spiralized vegetable strands for a mock-pasta that is out of this world! It can also be eaten straight, right out of a bowl with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and thick slice of buttered Thermomix toast. I love it just the way it is, slightly tart, with citric notes enhanced by both the long and short presence of alcohol, and a slight edge of heat from the chili pepper. I thoroughly enjoy the soft chewy crunch of little tomato seeds every now and then, but if you prefer, blitz the sauce at a higher speed for a velvety creamed version.
Please play with your food. Try adding more or less vodka, more cream, or increase cooking time in the final step to reduce the sauce further before the addition of cream. Own it — and tell us all how you personalized this recipe in your Thermomix kitchen.
- 3 large cloves garlic (about 20 g)
- 1 large onion, quartered (about 150 g)
- 30 g (1 oz) butter (make your own!)
- 30 g (1 oz) extra virgin olive oil
- 800 g (28.2 oz) fresh tomatoes, quartered
- 1 large red pepper (capsicum) (about 150-200 g/5.3-7 oz) cut into large chunks
- 1 dried red chili pepper about as long as your longest finger, cut into thirds (the chili, not the finger!)
- 1 sprig of fresh rosemary as long as a finger, leaves only
- 130 g (4.5 oz) vodka 40% (90 g + 40 g)
- 50 g (1.8 oz) light cream
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. pepper
- Turn Thermomix on speed 6 and toss garlic cloves onto running blades, chop for about 4 sec.
- Add onion chunks and chop 5 sec/speed 4. Clear sides of TMX bowl with spatula, pushing food back down. Add butter and olive oil, cook on 5 min/Varoma/speed 1.
- Add in this order: the red pepper (capsicum), rosemary, chili pepper and lastly the tomatoes. Chop 5 seconds/speed 5.
- Add 90 g/3.2 oz vodka and cook on 20 min/Varoma/speed 1 — replace the measuring cap with the simmering basket placed on the lid to allow evaporation while preventing splatters. (It won’t splatter at the beginning of this cooking cycle but will do so after a few minutes. ) This is a good time to prepare zucchini if you are not using traditional pasta.
- Add remaining vodka and reduce temp to cook a further 20 minutes/100ºC/212ºF/speed 1 with measuring cap still removed and simmer basket on top. (Use this time – or part of this time – to steam spiralized zucchini ribbons in the Varoma if you are using a veggie ‘pasta’ variation.)
- Add salt, pepper and cream, put measuring cap into place and blend 4 seconds speed 4.
- see more info about steaming spiralized vegetables in the Varoma