This Spicy Pumpkin Vodka Pasta is made with a spicy and BOLD flavored tomato pumpkin cream sauce, juicy spicy Italian sausage, and ribbons of fresh Italian basil. Perfect for a fall dinner gathering, your Thanksgiving table, or a cozy weeknight meal!
1 can (15 ounces / 425 grams) Pumpkin Puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
2 TSP Kosher Salt, to taste
½ TSP freshly cracked Black Pepper, to taste
1.5 TSP Crushed Red Pepper Chili Flakes, to taste
1 TSP Ground Cayenne, to taste
1 TSP ground Cinnamon
½ TSP Smoked Paprika (I used hot, but sweet smoked paprika would work too)
½ TSP Dried Oregano
½ TSP Light Brown Sugar
¾ – 1 cup Reserved Pasta Water, as needed
¼ cup Vodka
¾ cup + 1 TBLS / 200 ml Heavy Cream (Double/Whipping Cream with 35% fat content)
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (or Parmesan)
To Serve: More grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, more sliced Italian Basil, drizzle of chili oil from the jar of Calabrian Chili Pepper Paste/Sauce
Cook the sausage: Remove the sausages from the package they came in and place in a medium sized nonstick skillet or frying pan. Fill the pan with water until they are submerged. Place the skillet over high heat and boil for 3 minutes. Drain the water and add 2 teaspoons of olive oil to the skillet. Cook the sausages over medium heat until browned – about 6-10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes (while you prepare the fresh ingredients – step 2). Then slice the sausages into ½-inch wide discs, set aside.
Prepare the fresh ingredients: Chop the onion, garlic, red chilies, and basil as indicated in the ‘Ingredients’ section.
Cook the pasta: Cook the pasta in a large pot (or use the same deep sauté pan or large stockpot/Dutch oven you’ll use to make the sauce) with boiling salted water 2 minutes shy of al-dente according to package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, then drain and set aside. (I like to run cold water from the sink over the pasta to halt the cooking process and prevent them from sticking.)
Sauté onion and aromatics: Heat 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large deep sauté pan or stockpot/Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onion and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes, until the onion has softened and the garlic is fragrant (but not browned). Then add the red chilies and sauté for 30 seconds to combine.
Build the sauce: Add the Calabrian chili pepper paste and sauté briefly to combine. Then stir in the double concentrated tomato paste, pumpkin puree, and all of the spices and seasonings -the kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, crushed red pepper chili flakes, ground cayenne, ground cinnamon, smoked paprika, dried oregano flakes, and light brown sugar. Cook for 3-4 minutes, sautéing occasionally, until the tomato pumpkin mixture has slightly darkened and thickened. Then switch off the heat.
Blend: Add ¾ cup of the reserved pasta water to a blender jug, then transfer the tomato pumpkin mixture to the jug. Cover and make sure that the cap is tented to let out any steam, then blend until smooth. (You may need to uncover in between to push down the ingredients 1-2 times.) Return the blended tomato pumpkin mixture to the pan. (Note: You can use an immersion handheld blender if you prefer. But I like to use a regular blender to avoid splatters and accidentally scratching my pan.)
Deglaze the pan: Turn the heat back on to medium-high. After 20-30 seconds, pour in the vodka and stir to combine. Deglaze the pan for 1-2 minutes, until the alcohol burns off and you can’t smell it.
Stir in cream and cheese: Stir in the heavy cream until combined well. If you feel the sauce is too thick, stir in more reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Then add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and mix until fully melted and integrated in the sauce.
Add the pasta and sausage: Add the cooked pasta and sausage and toss for 1-2 minutes, until everything is fully coated in the sauce.
Stir through basil: Stir in the fresh Italian basil, then switch off the heat.
To Serve: Divide evenly onto plates and garnish with more fresh basil, more grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, and a drizzle of Calabrian chili oil from the pepper paste jar if desired. Serve immediately!
Cooking the sausage. I used the boil and brown method for Niman Ranch fully cooked uncured spicy Italian sausages. But check your package instructions for the sausages you’re using. They might have a slightly longer boil time – about 6-8 minutes instead of 3 if they are not already fully cooked.
Use a large enough pan, Dutch oven, or a stockpot to make the sauce. In order to toss and combine the pasta with the sauce without breaking the pasta tubes, you’ll need quite a large pan. If you don’t have a very large deep sauté pan, make the sauce in a large Dutch oven or stockpot.
Be careful when pouring the vodka into the pan. Use a measuring cup instead of pouring directly out of the bottle, and make sure the pan is not too hot. This’ll prevent spills around the outside edges of the pan, which can be dangerous since vodka is highly flammable.
Double Concentrated Tomato Paste. If using regular tomato paste, use a 6 ounce can instead.
Heavy Cream. For a slightly less rich and not as creamy sauce, use half-and-half or whole milk instead.
To make this vegetarian. Omit the sausage and use 1 pound of pasta.
Storing. Store any leftovers in a sealed airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days. Reheat in the microwave on high for 2-3 minutes, stirring once in between, until hot throughout.
To make and use homemade pumpkin puree for this pasta:
Roast: Cut a pumpkin or butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. Line a baking tray with aluminum foil and preheat oven to 200°C/400°F. Place the pumpkin flesh side up on the prepared tray and drizzle vegetable or avocado oil on top. Roast for 35-60 minutes, until the flesh starts to pull away from the skin and is tender enough to be easily pierced with a knife or fork. You should test in several spots to ensure it’s done.
Process: Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and place in a food processor bowl. (You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of the pumpkin and your food processor bowl.) Process until very smooth – about 3-4 minutes. Measure out what you need for this pasta dish. Then transfer the rest to a sealed airtight container. Store in the fridge for 5-7 days or freeze for up to 3 months. You can make the pumpkin puree a few days in advance if you wish.
See post above for ‘Variations’ if you’d like to customize this dish and for more tips.