Spicy Vodka Pasta with Prawns

Close-up top view of plate with Spicy Vodka Pasta with Prawns garnished with cheese and basil.

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5 from 4 reviews

Tube-shaped pasta and perfectly cooked buttery prawns get tossed in a luscious tomato vodka sauce with a spicy sharp bite from Calabrian chili pepper paste. Perfect for date night, entertaining, or any night in!



For the Prawns:

  • 12 ounces / 340 grams peeled and deveined Jumbo Black Tiger Prawns (size: 16/20) – rinsed thoroughly and pat-dried (or shrimp)
  • ½ TSP Kosher Salt, to taste
  • ¼ TSP freshly cracked Black Pepper, to taste
  • 1.5 TBLS Unsalted Butter, for cooking

For the Spicy Vodka Pasta:

  • 12 ounces / 340 grams Mezze Paccheri Rigati Pasta (or any other tube-shaped pasta such as pipe rigate, penne, rigatoni, etc.)
  • 2 TBLS Unsalted Butter
  • 3 TBLS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • ½ medium Yellow Onion – thinly sliced into half moons
  • 6 Garlic cloves – minced
  • 28 Red Chilies (I used Bird’s Eye, but any small hot red chilies will work), to taste – finely chopped
  • 4 TBLS Hot Calabrian Chili Pepper Paste/Sauce
  • 1 tube (4.5 ounces / 130 grams) Double Concentrated Tomato Paste
  • 1 (14 ounces / 400 grams) can chopped or crushed Tomatoes (I used Waitrose’s Italian Chopped Tomatoes with Olive Oil & Garlic)
  • ½ TSP White Sugar
  • 1.5 TSP Crushed Red Pepper Chili Flakes, to taste
  • 1 TSP Ground Cayenne, to taste
  • 2 TSP Kosher Salt, to taste
  • ½ TSP freshly cracked Black Pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup Vodka
  • 200 ml / ¾ cup + 1 TBLS Heavy Cream (Double/Whipping Cream with minimum 35% fat content)
  • ¼ cup Reserved Pasta Water
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) Cheese
  • ½ cup fresh Italian Basil Leaves – sliced into thin strips
  • To Serve: More grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, more sliced Italian Basil, a drizzle of chili oil from the jar of Calabrian Chili Sauce



  1. Prepare the fresh ingredients: Chop the onion, garlic, red chilies, and basil as indicated in the ‘Ingredients’ section.

For the Spicy Vodka Pasta with Prawns:

  1. Cook the pasta: Cook the pasta in a large pot (or use the same deep sauté pan you’ll use for the pasta dish) filled with boiling salted water 2 minutes shy of al-dente according to package instructions. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water, then drain and set aside. (I like to run water over the pasta to halt the cooking process and prevent it from sticking.)
  2. Cook the prawns: Rinse the prawns thoroughly and pat-dry with paper towels and place on a large plate. Season with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Heat 1.5 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Once melted and starting to froth, add the prawns and cook undisturbed for a minute. Then turn them over and cook the other side for another 1-2 minutes, until no longer opaque and just cooked through. Switch of the heat and set the pan aside.
  3. Sauté onion and aromatics: Heat 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large deep sauté pan 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. Add the red chilies and sauté for 30 seconds to combine.
  4. Build the tomato sauce: Add the Calabrian chili pepper paste and sauté briefly to combine. Then add the tomato paste, chopped canned tomatoes, and season with white sugar, crushed red pepper chili flakes, ground cayenne, kosher salt, and freshly cracked black pepper. Using the back of a wooden spoon or spatula, “smush” the chopped tomatoes, and cook for 6-8 minutes while stirring occasionally, until the tomato mixture has darkened and thickened. (Note: At this point, you can transfer the tomato mixture to a blender (or use an immersion handheld blender) to blend until smooth if you prefer a smoother instead of rustic-style sauce. Return the blended tomato mixture back to the pan and set to medium-high heat.)
  5. Deglaze the pan: Pour in the vodka and deglaze the pan for 1 minute, until the vodka mostly cooks off and you can’t smell the alcohol.
  6. Stir in cream: Stir in the heavy cream and add 4 tablespoons of reserved pasta water. Stir to combine, the bring the sauce up to a gentle simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
  7. Add cheese, pasta, and prawns: Stir in the cheese until melted. Then add the pasta and prawns, along with any butter in the skillet. Toss for 1-2 minutes, until fully coated in the sauce and the sauce has slightly thickened.
  8. Stir through basil: Stir in the fresh Italian basil, then switch off the heat.
  9. To Serve: Divide the pasta evenly onto plates and garnish with more grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, basil, and a drizzle of Calabrian chili oil from the paste jar if desired. Serve immediately and enjoy!



  1. Prawns: Use double the amount indicated if not already peeled and deveined. Shrimp can be used instead if preferred.
  2. To make this vegetarian: Omit the prawns and use 1 pound of pasta instead of 12 ounces.
  3. Double Concentrated Tomato Paste: If using regular tomato paste, use a 6 ounce can instead.
  4. Canned chopped tomatoes: Use good quality canned chopped or crushed tomatoes that you like. Don’t feel compelled to splurge on a can of San Marzano tomatoes (unless you love their taste).
  5. Use good quality pasta. A high-quality Italian pasta will make all the difference and taste better with the sauce than your regular everyday supermarket pasta.
  6. Be careful when adding the vodka to the pan. Vodka is highly flammable, so make sure the pan is not too hot, and be careful not to spill any on the outside edges of the pan. Using a measuring cup makes it easier to avoid spills than pouring straight out of the bottle.
  7. Storing: Store any leftovers in a sealed airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days.
  8. Recipe inspired by the Spicy Rigatoni Vodka dish at Carbone and Serious Eats