...there's both eatin' and drinkin' in it

Pas de Pasta

What? No pasta?

It was a somewhat shocking realisation. Reeni’s recent post on pasta as her muse alerted me to the fact that pasta has not gotten so much as a look in here at The Daily Spud. I count precisely one passing mention of that most Italian of foodstuffs since this little blog started. What’s with that, exactly? It’s not like I don’t like it or anything.


Come in, linguine, you are welcome here

I guess it may have something to do with the fact that, while pasta and spuds may not be arch-rivals, they do, except for gnocchi, have a tendency to give each other a wide berth at the dinner table. Smitten Kitchen’s recent recipe for penne with potato and rocket may be the exception that proves that particular rule. For most people, it’s an either/or proposition, and given the dominance of the spud in this jurisdiction, pasta got relegated to the sidelines, apparently unloved. Amends needs must be made. How’s about a simple tomato-based sauce to start.

This sauce uses that French mirepoix trio of onion, carrot and celery, along with some garlic and tomato. The kicker is the vodka, which encourages the tomatoes to give up their alcohol-soluble flavours. I only lately happened upon the use of vodka in tomato sauce, though I have, er, happened upon other uses for vodka before this. You can, of course, use wine or even port instead, and they bring their own flavours along. The vodka seemed to let the tomatoes shine and left me wondering, in a good way, what the hell just happened to my sauce. As for the addition of toasted sunflower seeds, I’ve been putting them in my tomato-y pasta concoctions since approximately forever.

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Spud’s Inaugural Pasta Sauce w/ Tomatoes & Vodka

This is just a particular incarnation of a simple pasta sauce that happened in my kitchen lately. To get the low-down on a general framework for putting together this kind of pasta sauce, you would do well to check out Jenni’s guidelines for same.

spaghetti sauce

The Pasta:
  • Enough of whatever pasta takes your fancy. 100g of dried pasta makes for a large dinner portion, so somewhere between 50g and 100g per person, depending on how hungry you all are. I never actually weigh pasta, I just throw in what looks like enough. The sauce below makes enough for 2-3 pasta eaters.
The Saucy Stuff:
  • 1 large onion (around 150-200g), finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot (around 150-200g), diced
  • 2 sticks celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tblsp tomato puree
  • 1x400g tin of tomatoes
  • approx 60 ml vodka
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tblsps sunflower seeds
  • olive oil for frying
The Finishing Touches:
  • a splash of olive oil
  • a small pat of butter
  • some shavings of parmesan cheese
  • chopped flat leaf parsley
The Steps:
  • Heat your pan over a medium heat and add some olive oil, enough to coat the pan well.
  • Add the garlic, onion, carrot, celery and a good pinch of salt to the pan. Stir well so that the veg get coated in the oil.
  • Lower the heat, cover and let the veggies sweat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions should be translucent (but don’t let them brown or burn) and the carrot and celery should have started to soften a little.
  • Uncover, add the tomato puree and stir and fry for a couple of minutes.
  • Now add the vodka and stir and fry for another minute or two.
  • Take your dried basil and (as Jenni recommends), take it in one hand, and rub with the thumb of your other hand to release some of their oils.
  • Add the dried basil, the tin of tomatoes, the remaining salt and a few twists of black pepper to the pan. Stir and bring the whole lot to a simmer, adding a little water to the pan if the mixture appears too thick.
  • Cover again and simmer for around 30 minutes, or until the carrot and celery are well softened.
  • Meanwhile, heat a small heavy pan over a medium high heat and toss in the sunflower seeds. Allow them to toast for a few minutes until they start to turn brown, stirring frequently. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  • You can also use this opportunity to cook your pasta in lots of boiling salted water until al dente. Once the pasta is done, drain, but reserve about half a cup of the pasta cooking liquid.
  • When the sauce is cooked, add the toasted sunflower seeds and stir to mix.
  • When you’re ready to serve and want to finish the dish like a pro, do like Jenni does:
  • Return the pasta to its pan and place it over a high heat. Add a splash of olive oil, a small pat of butter, some shavings of parmesan, the pasta sauce and the reserved cooking liquid. Stir around for a minute or two while it sputters, then transfer to your plates of choice. Top with more grated cheese if you like and with the chopped parsley.
The Endless Variations:
  • Use red peppers instead of carrot and celery and you’ve got peperonata.
  • Add some chopped chorizo just before the end of cooking.
  • Use oregano instead of basil.
  • Use red wine instead of vodka.
  • I could go on, but you get the idea…
The Results:
  • About 3 servings of sauce, or 2 if you have really hungry people.


  1. noble pig

    OMG that last picture has my mouth watering! Wow, the colors!

  2. Tangled Noodle

    You’re as adept with pasta as you are with potatoes! I’ll have to try Jenni’s finishing technique – usually for me, it’s just ‘drain and serve’. I really need to get on the mirepoix express: I’m good with onions/shallots and garlic but never bother to get carrots or celery.

    I’m so happy to hear that you’re opening the door to alternative starches! Rice is a very obliging guest – a bit plain and even a little boring until she starts mixing it up with the others. Hope we can join the party some day!

  3. Heather

    what a wonderful first pasta post!! yummy!

  4. Daily Spud

    noble pig: thanks, it does look inviting, doesn’t it :)

    Tangled Noodle: to be honest, I was a “drain and serve” girl myself and then I remembered reading Jenni’s instructions et voilà :) as for the alternative starches campaign, your petition for the inclusion of rice is duly noted – the fact that I buy 10kg bags of basmati at a time will weigh heavily in favour of its getting included sometime!

    Heather: …and it won’t be the last, that’s for sure :)

  5. Sapuche

    I’ve never used alcohol in my pasta sauces, but I may start with the great recipe you’ve offered here. I love the fact that there are so many variations for the sauce. If it turns out totally different than expected, I can just claim it’s one of the many variations I decided to go with. Thanks!

  6. OysterCulture

    Daily Spud this looks awesome and I love the addition of sunflower seeds – its one of those headslapping moments when I ask myself “Self, now why didn’t I think of that” I always loved the sweetness that carrots gave tomato sauces and the depth that the celery adds. I too like to add a bit of booze to my sauce to stir the pot. This recipe is a keeper in my book – thanks for sharing.

  7. Chef E

    I love that piece of pasta rising to meet you…like an Indian snake charmer…

    I know what we will do when I come over one day…dumpster diving, lol, can you imagine telling your friends that is what this crazy American chef wants to do, lol

    I just posted osso bucco and lemon risotto…yum yum…

  8. Reeni

    Pasta as your muse works! I love it. I’ve never used vodka in my sauce, and that needs to be fixed, especially when my garden starts blessing me with tomatoes. Such a lovely mix of flavors, love the sunflower seeds. It looks positively delicious!

    I’m honored that you mentioned me!

  9. laura

    Oooo, sunflower seeds. We like them on spaghetti carbonara, can’t wait to try them with a tomato-y sauce. Wonderful idea. And thanks for the link!

  10. zerrin

    Never heard of vodka or any other drinks as ingredients of pasta. So new to me. But it looks amazing, I’m sure it tastes perfect. Instead of drinking, I should use some of the vodka in pasta next time.

  11. Daily Spud

    Sapuche: with all of those variations, you can make it yours, just go to it and enjoy :)

    Oyster Culture: you are most welcome; and as for the sunflower seeds, whenever it was that I became aware of that particular addition, I probably had a similar headslapping moment to the one you describe with Self, happens to us all at times!

    Chef E: (stops for a moment to have a good ol’ belly laugh) dumpster diving would sure get my friends talking alright – brilliant!

    Reeni: pleasure to mention you, the honour is all mine :)

    laura: you’re welcome! once I saw the mention of vodka, I knew I had to try it :)

    zerrin: definitely try some kind of alcohol in your tomato sauce and see what happens – you are still allowed to drink some yourself too, the chef always is, lol!

  12. Natasha - 5 Star Foodie

    Your vodka sauce sounds wonderful with linguine! We also had pasta for dinner today – it’s always very good.

  13. Sophie

    Yum yum :)!! I also like to add vodka in pasta sauces, it gives a nice kick to it!! This looks superbly yummie :)!!!

  14. Lori

    Those are some lovely additions to a sauce. I’ve never used vodka or sunflower seeds before. Love having some new ideas to try. I’m convinced that Brazil is the king of double-starch land. It is *always* French fries and rice. If there is pasta on the table, rice is usually included as well. I haven’t witness the French fries and pasta combo, but I’m sure it is a staple somewhere. :)

  15. Daily Spud

    Natasha: I’m probably guilty of taking pasta for granted – it is such a great staple

    Sophie: it does indeed give a nice kick :)

    Lori: french fries and pasta probably is a staple somewhere, lol! Meanwhile Will from Recipe Play tells me that, when he worked in Galway, he served a pasta dish to a lady and her response was “No Spuds?”, so we have our own double starch thing going on here it seems :)

  16. Joie de vivre

    Ha! I thought it had something to do with your blog name being the Daily SPUD, not daily pasta. Your pasta sauce looks yummy! I think it would go well on a baked potato! :)

  17. Daily Spud

    Sure what’s in a name, eh?! And yes, I do think this sauce would also go very well on a baked potato. Glad we cleared that one up :)

  18. Jenni

    Lovely of you to give pasta its moment in the spotlight! You are an (almost) egalitarian Spud! Love simple pasta dishes like this:) I must admit, I generally have pasta in the house more frequently than potatoes. When I have both, it kind of depends on how hungry I am as to which carb I choose!

  19. mgh

    Vodka – I remember being perturbed years ago seeing you put soy sauce into a tomato based pasta sauce…

  20. Daily Spud

    Jenni: I’d really like to think of myself as an equal opportunities starch employer, only some starches turn out to be more equal than others :)

    MGH: I still do that with soy sauce, though I’m not sure my readers are quite ready for that yet. I also slosh soy sauce into tomato-y heinz baked beans before lashing them on toast, though I don’t know if you ever saw me do that!

  21. Iisha

    You know.. I, too, think that it’s an “either/or proposition” when it comes to potatoes and pasta (and rice for that matter). So many times I can sit and eat all of these things, but if I did, whatever ‘dead animal’ that ended up on my plate will have died a veinful death, because I wouldn’t make it to it.

  22. Daily Spud

    Yeah, Lisha, in general it’s either/or for me, though goodness knows, I love ’em all!

  23. Ian

    Sounds very yummy! Have a crazy idea to try this with shrimp.. Thanks!

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