If you have ever been to NYC’s Italian restaurant Carbone then you have definitely had their spicy rigatoni. You can’t make the trip without ordering it. At Carbone, the house-made rigatoni is tossed in a chunky, spicy bright orange sauce the color of the Hermés logo; and it tastes just as luxurious. While some refer to it as a vodka sauce, it’s more than that (plus Carbone doesn’t actually use vodka in their sauce) – it’s different than other vodka sauces that I’ve had and is definitely spicier. I’ve been to the restaurant’s location in Las Vegas twice and since there isn’t one in Los Angeles, and after eating there, I knew that I had to find a way to recreate a similar version of the recipe to satiate my carb cravings.
My personal mission was to create a comparable sauce to the one I found myself craving. The base of the sauce is an onion soubise, an easy, three-ingredient French sauce where the onions are cooked over a long period of time at a low heat until they are tender and flavorful. The goal isn’t to put color on the onions but to coax out the flavor so don’t try to rush it. The onion mixture can be made a few days ahead of time and reheated in order to minimize the day of prep.
2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt, as needed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Calabrian chili paste*
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 pound rigatoni
Heat a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the butter, ½ cup of water and the onions to the pan. Continue to simmer the onions over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are tender, about 1½ hours. Season with salt then set aside and let cool.
In a large saucepot over medium heat add the olive oil and heat through. Add the garlic and sauté briefly, then add the tomato paste, the tomatoes and sugar, stirring to combine. Let simmer for 15 minutes, then season to taste with salt. Add the onion mixture to the pot and stir to combine then whisk in the cream, chili paste and chili flakes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add the salt and bring back to the boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 8 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water then drain, and return the pasta to the pot. Ladle the sauce over the top and toss to combine, cooking for an additional minute. If the sauce is too thick, add the pasta water 2 tablespoons at a time to thin the sauce.
Serve the spicy rigatoni hot in warmed pasta bowls.
*Note: Calabrian chili paste is a spicy mixture made from crushed and oil-packed Calabrian chilies; a smoky and sweet pepper that adds a lot a flavor and just the right amount of spice. Be careful, a little goes a long way. It can be found at some specialty grocery stores, Italian markets or online on Williams Sonoma here.