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Vodka sauce with spinach

Vodka – for some reason I don’t fully understand – really enhances tomato sauce. It’s only relatively recently that I tried this for the first time, as I’m not a vodka drinker, and therefore never really had it in the house. I certainly wasn’t going to buy a bottle specially for it, when you can make absolutely delicious sauce without it. However, I discovered some at the back of our booze cupboard during lockdown so thought I’d give it a go, and it really is worth making, if you have a bottle kicking around.

This version I made with fresh tomatoes, and I threw in a handful of spinach at the end – to be honest I wasn’t making it with a mind to posting it, but a few people asked for the recipe, so I made it again taking note of the quantities. It’s not a stand out dinner party pasta, but it’s a deliciously comforting, creamy pasta to curl up with on these increasingly autumnal-feeling evenings.

A note before you begin – I don’t mind tomato skins in my sauce, but I know some people do; my father for one can’t stand them. So if you’re adverse to the skins, then either blanch and peel the tomatoes before using them, which is a lot of faff with cherry tomatoes, or just blitz the sauce until smooth before adding the spinach. I’d opt for the latter.

Vodka sauce with spinach

  • Servings: 2 generous servings
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 20g unsalted butter
  • Splash olive oil
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp double concentrate tomato puree (don’t skimp here, the good ones are worth the extra money)
  • 200g cherry or baby plum tomatoes (again, you get what you pay for – go for vine ripened, deep red ones)
  • 1tbsp vodka (a good glug, basically)
  • 180g double cream
  • 90g washed baby spinach
  • Small handful grated vegetarian parmesan-style cheese, plus extra to serve
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 300g pasta – I used fresh egg bucatini, but I believe it’s more traditional to serve this sauce with penne – reduce this quantity to ~200-250g if you’re using dried pasta)

Directions

  1. In a large saute pan, melt the butter with the olive oil, then add the diced onion and sweat it over a medium heat for a few minutes, until starting to soften. Add the garlic, and continue to cook, stirring frequently for another 2-3 minutes until the garlic is fragrant and the onion is soft and translucent. Stir in the tomato puree, season with salt and black pepper, and continue to cook for about 5 more minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, set a large pan of salted water over a high heat to boil for the pasta.
  3. Chop the cherry tomatoes in half, and add them to the pan, and then cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 10-15 minutes, until the tomatoes are completely broken down and saucy – you can use the back of your spoon to crush the tomatoes and help them along. Add the vodka, then bring the sauce to the boil, and simmer slowly for about 5 minutes. Add the cream, return it to the boil, then add the spinach, and stir over a medium heat until it has all wilted. Taste and check the seasoning, adding more salt and black pepper if necessary. Remove it from the heat and set it aside.
  4. Cook the pasta until just al dente, then drain the pasta, reserving a little of the starchy cooking water. Add the pasta to the pan containing the sauce, then over a medium heat, toss it all together to ensure the sauce coats the pasta completely. Add the handful of grated cheese, and keep tossing – it will thicken a little, so if you need to loosen it, use a little of the starchy pasta-cooking water that you reserved.
  5. Once it’s all piping hot, and really well mixed, divide it between your pasta bowls, and serve immediately, with more grated cheese on top if desired.