The Secret to Making Instagram-Famous Spicy Rigatoni Vodka Sauce

I have continued this family tradition even after moving to New York, but sometimes a classic red sauce just isn’t what you’re craving every Sunday. So I’ve switched it up, making my fair share of alla vodka recipes. I’ve also purchased just about every bottled sauce available on shelves. But none has left me dreaming about the silky sauce every single day—until now. I came across this easy 20-minute recipe after shamelessly downloading TikTok (like every other millennial during quarantine). 

Jeremy Scheck was one of the first cooks I happened upon during one late-night scrolling session. His recipe for the perfect spicy rigatoni vodka called for ingredients I already had in my pantry and fridge, making it an obvious choice for my next meal. Yes, my next meal was technically breakfast, and I honestly did not think twice about it—I was making it the second I woke up. With no prep, besides boiling salty (seriously, be generous with the salt) water to cook the pasta in, I began creating the delicious, so-good-it-feels-like-a-restaurant-meal sauce. 

The secret to a silky smooth sauce, which Scheck reveals in his video and what my mom has preached to me for years, is to always, always save some pasta water from the cooking process! A cup (or so) of pasta water will ultimately determine the texture and presentation of your dish. Adding starchy salt water (also known as liquid gold in my house) will not only enhance the flavor of your succo, but also emulsify the sauce and pasta, creating a creamy dish. 

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So good, you’re going to want seconds! 

I cannot stress what a difference following these two important tips—first, heavily salt your water before boiling, and second, save pasta water before draining—will make. Adhere to these rules, and you’ll have the Carbone-like vodka sauce of your dreams. Don’t, and you may as well have picked up supermarket bottled sauce on your weekly grocery run. Yes, neither of these steps seems like a big deal, but trust me, forget one and so long, restaurant results! Now that I sound like my grandmother, hitting you over the head with the importance of each step, here’s the ingredients list as well as step-by-step instructions. Mangia!

Recipe (for 4–5 servings):

  • ½ onion (red or yellow), diced
  • 3 splashes (around 3 tbsp.) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. pepper
  • 2 tbsp. red pepper flakes (add more for extra spice)
  • 2 tbsp. oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
  • 1-oz. can tomato paste
  • ⅓ cup vodka
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 lb. rigatoni or pipette pasta
  • ½ cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Handful fresh basil, chopped (optional)


  • Boil a medium pot of water with a generous pour of salt—seriously, be generous! As the cookbook author Samin Nosrat says, your pasta water should taste like the sea.
  • Turn your stove on medium-low and add your extra-virgin olive oil to a saucepan.
  • Add your spices (salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, oregano) once the oil is hot.
  • Once the spices have fried for ultimate flavor (about 2–3 minutes or so), add the onion.
  • Stir in your onion so it gets a nice coating of oil.
  • Check on your pot of water. If it’s boiling, add in your pasta.
  • While that’s simmering, add the garlic followed by the can of tomato paste to your saucepan.
  • Stir together for a minute or two before adding in the vodka followed by the heavy cream.
  • Keep stirring.
  • Once the sauce has mixed evenly (the color should be soft pink/orange depending on how much cream you added), reduce your heat to low.
  • Check on your pasta (it should be slightly al dente, after cooking for 9–11 minutes). Save a ½ cup of pasta water before draining.
  • Add your pasta to the saucepan and stir in your cheese.
  • Once the cheese melts in with the sauce, add ½ cup of pasta water to emulsify the ingredients.
  • Plate, and garnish with basil and a sprinkle of cheese.