spicy fusilli alla vodka

as part of my mortal terror of "getting old" and "being boring" I typically go out of my way to throw on a dress and have glamorous-sounding saturdays. netflix rot is fine on tuesday but on the weekends, unless too hung over to function, I just can't sit around like that.

but last night, as part of this extended weird winter funk, I didn't have it in me to get dressed and find fun. I also didn't have the energy to go to the grocery store, which is literally steps from my house, so, at 9pm, staring down the pantry alongside the cat, magically willing some alternative to trader joe's hatch chile mac and cheese to present itself, I thought: soon I want to go back to (my fave lil place) jon and vinny's soon, and why didn't I just go there tonight instead of sucking like this?

j+v's is that very LA type of place that sort of flies in the face of everything else LA. it's a "modern italian red sauce joint" that features no grain bowls, minimal kale, yet the people who eat there are mostly glamorous and skinny and going to town on bowls of cacio e pepe and fried fresh mozzarella sticks while kanye's entourage sits in the corner, leering at the rest of the tables. explain this. I can't.

their signature dish is the bolognese. the alla vodka is runner up. but that runner up can be conjured from thin air, made with mostly stuff average humans keep around, with minimal effort and maximum payoff. so that's what I made, with minimal regret. 

this recipe is adapted from the masters themselves, who wrote it down for bonappetit. I've made tweaks to lighten it up and punch up the flavor, but it's a hard one to fuck up. the sauce keeps just fine if you want to make it separately, or use it in another dish.

Photo Feb 04, 9 02 43 PM (5).jpg


Effortful time: 20 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Serves: 2


  • 6 oz. fusilli pasta
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbsp. tomato paste — look for one that's just tomato and nothing else, like delallo brand
  • 1 small garlic clove, grated/minced
  • 2 tsp. shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. vodka
  • 1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream (I used h&h)
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. dry basil (in the summer, I would use fresh)
  • 1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Start boiling some pasta water, and salt heavily. 
  2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet (or, do you have a saucier? this is a great time to use it!) over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft. Then add the garlic and sauté just until fragrant. Be careful — burning it even a little fucks everything up for this recipe.
  3. Right around now, put your pasta in to boil.
  4. Add the tomato paste and cook, breaking up with the back of a spoon, until the paste starts to go orange and caramelize — about 6ish minutes. 
  5. Pour in the vodka and stir to combine. Cook this step about 2 minutes so the alcohol burns off. Stir in the red pepper flakes, basil, salt, and pepper. Add the half and half or cream and stir, almost whisking with your spoon, until the layers no longer separate. 
  6. Drain your (obviously) al dente pasta, and save about 3/4 cup of pasta water. Add pasta to the sauce skillet, along with 1 tbsp. butter and a big splash of the pasta water. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly, until your sauce is thick n glossy — about 3 minutes.
  7. Re-season with salt and pepper (I found this needed more than I expected) and stir in your grated cheese, melting it into the sauce. Divide into bowls and top with more pecorino and a few cracks of pepper.
  8. Close your eyes, dim the lights, and think of Kanye.
  9. Pairings: I like a sangiovese with this. Spicy n light.