After eating the same grilled chicken and rice for over a week, I knew it was time for a change of pace. So, in spite of two impending midterms, I dragged my roommate and a couple of friends into the AMR III Building B basement to make Gigi Hadid’s famous spicy penne alla vodka recipe (minus the vodka).
This recipe has been popular on TikTok for its simplicity and hint of spice. Throughout the pandemic, I made this dish a couple of times with my sister, and after almost a month of being away from home, I wanted to bring a bit of home-cooked warmth to the clinically painted shades of the Building B basement.
To get our ingredients, we took a trip to Streets Market, picking up pasta and parmesan cheese along with a few snacks. Since one of my friends is vegan, I bought a vegan heavy-cream substitute as well. We also indulged a bit and brought home a basil plant. Currently, it is not doing so well, but hopefully with a little bit of sunshine, it should be okay. And, a huge thank you to the Fresh Food Café workers for not stopping me from taking a bunch of red chili flake packets and butter.
With a mix of thoroughly disinfected pans from the communal kitchen and The Strokes playing in the background, we started to cook. While there were some hiccups along the way, the pasta was delicious and we were glad to have something new for a change. I’ll always remember how everyone pitched in to help with cooking and washing the dishes.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
½ of a red onion
3 cloves of garlic
½ cup of tomato paste
⅔ cup of heavy cream
1 packet of red pepper flakes
3 cups of pasta
½ cup of grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon of butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Basil, chopped, to serve
- Fill a pan with water and bring to a boil. Salt the water; about 1 tablespoon of salt is needed per 3 cups of pasta.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water and stir; cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box or until al dente (the pasta should be able to be cut with a fork but still be firm in the center).
- Set the pasta aside and reserve ½ cup of the pasta water.
Making the Sauce:
- Prepare all your ingredients. Mince the onion and the garlic into small, ¼-inch cubes.
- In a large saucepan, add olive oil and heat the pan until the oil is shimmering.
- Add in the minced onions and garlic and cook over low heat until they are soft and translucent, about five to six minutes — you can tell when the onions are cooked if they are slightly darker around the edges.
- Add ½ cup of tomato paste and Italian seasoning and let it cook for a few minutes more; you'll see the tomato paste thicken and darken in color.
- Add in heavy cream and 1 packet of chili flakes. Stir thoroughly. You can always add more or less chili flakes to your taste. *The sauce should start to take on a slightly orange color.*
- Heat the pasta sauce for about two to three minutes, stirring constantly, making sure it doesn’t burn. Lower the heat if it starts to burn or if the pan gets too hot.
- Add in half of the parmesan cheese and mix until combined.
- Add in the reserved pasta water to the sauce. Start by adding ¼ cup of the pasta water, stirring constantly.
- Heat the sauce on low-medium heat for five to six minutes to reduce the sauce. Add in the pasta, butter and the remaining parmesan cheese and combine together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once the butter melts, top with basil and some more parmesan cheese.
- Make sure you have a can opener! The first time I made this dish, my roommate and I were hacking at the can with a knife to try to open it. While no one was harmed in the making of this dish, someone could have very easily lost a finger trying to stab an opening into the can.
- Don’t forget to salt your water when cooking pasta! Allegedly, there is an Italian saying that pasta water should taste as salty as the sea. It adds a lot of flavor to the dish, and it will not taste the same if you add salt later.
- I would recommend using a stainless-steel skillet instead of a cast-iron skillet to make the sauce. Tomato is acidic and reacts very easily with the cast-iron skillet, which changes the taste of the sauce.
- This dish can easily be made vegan by using a heavy-cream substitute and leaving out the butter and cheese.