Rigatoni alla vodka is one of those Italian-American classics that always pleases a crowd. It also happens to be easy to prepare and, like our basic tomato sauce, can be made in less than the time it takes to boil and cook pasta. Our version is nice and garlicky with some heat from hot pepper flakes, mellowed by the creamy pink sauce. It is also healthier than the classic, substituting half and half for heavy cream. Feel free to add mushrooms, prosciutto or your other favorite ingredients.
The principal function of the vodka, which has little taste of its own, is to deglaze the pan before adding the tomatoes to pick up the delicious bits of garlic and onion that have stuck to the bottom. If you don't have any vodka at home, leave it out, or substitute white wine for a subtly different flavor. Fast and delicious, this dish could become one of your weeknight staples.