Pasta superstars may come and go like clockwork, but pasta alla vodka has held its spot in the home cook hall of fame and on restaurant menus for longer than most. Creamy, tangy, and a little bit sweet, it hits all the notes—so it’s not shocking that it’s racked up such staying power and cultural capital.
But anything great is worth innovating on, right?
Enter Creamy Red Curry Pasta. With a few clever subs, associate food editor Rachel Gurjar employs many of the same principles as pasta alla vodka to inform this riff, resulting in a bowl of spaghetti with even more flavour. While replicating the creaminess and color of traditional pasta alla vodka, Rachel put her spin on it with “much more umami, spice, and deep flavours,” she says. It’s supremely pantry-friendly, ripe for a spot in your weeknight dinner arsenal.
Where pasta alla vodka gains much of its flavour and bright orange hue from tomato paste, here red curry paste does the heavy lifting. Cooking it down with softened shallots and garlic creates a warm, fragrant base for this silky sauce. Red curry yields both intense flavor and a healthy dose of heat—the paste itself is traditionally made with ingredients like chili peppers, lemongrass, and galangal. (If you want to cut down on the spice level, you can use less paste.)
Coconut milk steps in for heavy cream, providing the same creamy quotient but with added sweetness and fragrance. You’ll use the whole cans of both coconut milk and curry paste, meaning no half-finished containers lodged in the back of your fridge.
A few squeezes of lemon at the very end, right after you’ve removed the dish from heat, is a nonnegotiable, says Rachel. It brightens the sauce and adds acid normally delivered by tomato paste. The resultant sauce, with a little help from reserved pasta water, is supremely creamy and just the right amount of spicy, hugging every noodle.
1 lb. spaghetti
2 Tbsp Kosher salt
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 4-oz. can red curry paste (preferably Maesri)
1 13.5-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Thinly sliced scallion greens and lemon wedges (for serving)
Cook 1 lb. spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until just shy of al dente, about 1 minute less than package directions.
Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium. Cook 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced, and 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, stirring often, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add one 4-oz. can red curry paste and cook, stirring often, until paste is fragrant and slightly darkened and beginning to stick to bottom of pot, about 3 minutes.
Pour in one 13.5-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk and bring to a simmer, stirring and scraping up any browned bits. Cook, stirring often, until sauce thickens enough to lightly coat a spoon, about 3 minutes.
Using tongs, transfer pasta to sauce (a little water coming along is okay). Add 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces, and ½ cup pasta cooking liquid. Increase heat to medium; cook, tossing vigorously and adding more pasta cooking liquid by the ¼-cupful as needed, until sauce is silky and pasta is coated and glossy, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice; toss to combine.
Divide pasta among shallow bowls; top with thinly sliced scallion greens. Serve with lemon wedges.
This recipe originally appears on bonappetit.com