If you’ve been paying any sort of attention to hot restaurants in New York City, then you’ve surely heard of Carbone. This Italian-American restaurant first opened in 2013 and quickly became a hotspot for its celebrity clientele. Ask anyone who has eaten at Carbone to recommend one dish and it’s likely to be the delicious signature spicy rigatoni.
One thing to know is that Italian-American food is not your traditional Italian cuisine. It’s a genre of food all it’s own, developed over 100 years by immigrants to New York City. For example, things like spaghetti and meatballs, or chicken parmesan are not really Italian at all!
How To Copycat Carbone’s Spicy Rigatoni
I’ve been trying to make a copycat of Carbone’s famous spicy rigatoni for about a few years now. I’ve probably tried a half dozen other food bloggers posts and, while good, kind of disappointed me. Finally after almost 4 years of writing this blog I think I have a recipe that might just be the best spicy rigatoni I’ve ever made.
- 400 grams Rigatoni Pasta – of course you can’t have a spicy rigatoni without rigatoni. I suggest getting a quality brand that has quite thick walls.
- 3 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 medium Yellow Onion – finely diced
- 2 cloves Garlic – thinly sliced
- 7 Calabrian Chilies – these are absolutely a necessary ingredient, so try your best to find them.
- 250 grams Tomato Passata – this is called tomato puree in America. The super concentrated ‘tomato paste’ in those metal tubes will be far too strong.
- 1 cup Vodka
- 360 ml Heavy Cream – as you can see I used 33% heavy cream. I would not recommend going below that.
- 50 grams Butter – about 3 tbsp, or in America a little less than half a stick.
- Salt – for the pasta water
- 1 tsp Black Pepper – optional, freshly cracked. If using powdered black pepper then a half teaspoon will be fine.
- Parmigiano Reggiano – to taste
- Basil – for garnish
Making The Recipe
In a walled pan add the olive oil and bring to medium heat. Add in the onions and cook until mostly translucent. Then add the thinly sliced garlic and minced Calabrian chile peppers.
The Calabrian chile peppers are the star of this dish and where the heat comes from. Just wash them, cut off the stem, and chop them up. The garlic should be sliced as thin as possible so it essentially caramelizes and melts into the sauce.
Once the onions are soft and the chili and garlic is fragrant, add the tomato paste and vodka. Of course, after seeing this special edition of Kozatska Rada horilka I knew I had to buy it in support. The alcohol helps break down the tomato sauce’s stickiness and helps it better emulsify with the cream added later.
Once the alcohol begins to dissipate and the sauce starts to get thicker (about 3-5 minutes after adding the vodka) add in the butter and chili flakes. Stir until the butter is all melted. Once you add the butter is about the same time you can start boiling the pasta in heavily salted water.
Next add in the heavy cream and stir it in completely. By now the spicy rigatoni pasta sauce should be silky smooth. The onions and garlic have all but dissolved into the sauce and the smell is fragrant and spicy. Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir while waiting for the pasta to finish boiling.
Remove one cup of the salty, starchy pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta and add it to the saucepan. Use a spoon to gently fold the sauce around the pasta. If you are using a large pan you can just toss to coat.
Add a quarter cup of the starchy water at a time to thin out the sauce and envelop the pasta. This step not only creates Carbone’s signature silky smooth sauce, but adds salt to the spicy rigatoni. You don’t need to use the entire cup of reserved starchy water, it just depends on how much you need to thin the sauce to the desired consistency.
Finally scoop some of that tasty spicy rigatoni into a bowl, microplane over some fresh Parmigiano Reggiano and sprinkle a bit of basil chiffonade to complete the presentation.
Tips & Tricks
- A good ratio of salt to water when you boil pasta is 2 tablespoons of salt per liter of water. This is commonly referred to as the 3% rule in Italian kitchens, or “as salty as the sea”.
- If you are worried about your sauce being too chunky you can always use an immersion blender. However if you cook the onions and garlic properly then they should dissolve completely into the sauce.
- If you cannot find Calabrian chilies, you can substitute for fresno or serrano peppers, which have a similar heat profile.
- 1 cup…isn’t that a lot of vodka!?!? Well, yes and no. True, a regular vodka sauce only uses a splash (maybe around 1/4 cup) but the more the better I say. With how much tomato paste is used you actually do want to use quite a bit of alcohol so the sauce emulsifies with the heavy cream later.
- Can I make this spicy rigatoni without alcohol? Yes, you can. If you don’t want to use alcohol just leave it out. If you want to still achieve the silky smooth sauce then I suggest adding a cup of water and a tablespoon of lemon juice and simmering the sauce down like normal.
Carbone’s Spicy Rigatoni
- 1 Pot
- 1 Pan high walled preferably
- 400 grams Rigatoni Pasta of course you can't have a spicy rigatoni without rigatoni. I suggest getting a quality brand that has quite thick walls.
- 3 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 medium Yellow Onion finely diced
- 2 cloves Garlic thinly sliced
- 7 Calabrian Chilies these are absolutely a necessary ingredient so try your best to find them.
- 250 grams Tomato Paste this is about a cup of the jarred stuff. The super concentrated paste in those metal tubes will be far too much.
- 1 cup Vodka
- 360 ml Heavy Cream as you can see I used 33% heavy cream. I would not recommend going below that.
- 50 grams Butter about 3 tbsp or in America a little less than half a stick.
- Salt for the pasta water
- 1 tsp Black Pepper freshly cracked. If using powdered black pepper then a half teaspoon will be fine.
- Parmigiano Reggiano to taste
- Basil for garnish
- Start boiling a pot of heavily salted water. Heat up some oil in a pan on medium heat. Add the onion and stir until somewhat translucent. Add in the Calabrian chili and garlic and continue stirring for another minute or so.
- Add the tomato paste and stir it around to mix with the other stuff in the pan, then pour in the vodka. Stir the vodka around and let everything reduce a bit, about 3-5 minutes. Here you can add the pasta to the boiling salted water and cook until al dente.
- Next add in the butter and chili flakes and stir until the butter is fully melted, then pour in the cream. Stir the pan around until well combined, then lower the heat to low.
- When the pasta is ready, about 2 minutes less than what the box will usually say, remove a cup of water from the pot. Set aside. Drain the pasta and add the rigatoni right to the sauce. Give everything a mix and re-add the reserved water to the pan about a quarter cup at a time until you reach desired consistency. You don't need to use all of the water.
- Plate the pasta, grate over some good quality Parmigiano Reggiano, and sprinkle over some basil chiffonade. Enjoy!