Travelogue: Carbone and their legendary Spicy Rigatoni

If you watch Chrissy Teigan’s Snapchat as religiously as I do, you know all about the year’s it-restaurant Carbone. Located in both NYC and Vegas, the restaurant feels straight out of the Sinatra and Godfather era, complete with red velvet draping, bourgie chandeliers, low lights, bow tied waiters, and damn good Italian food. Alex and I were in Vegas last December and obvi I had to check it out.

The maitre d’ seated us at a secluded booth, and we had barely put in our drink order before a guy came buy and sliced us a generous hunk of parmigiano-reggiano as an amuse bouche. Any opportunity to eat a hunk of the good stuff should NEVER be passed up. Next they brought our their complimentary antipasti spread. It included cauliflower giardiniera, salami, prosciutto, a couple different kind of cheese, and three kinds of bread. Everything was awesome and went great with the negroni I ordered, but oh man–the tomato bread was our FAVORITE. The waiter ended up bringing us 2 refills of just that. I mean we were probably starved after walking around Vegas all day and guzzling apertifs, but still it was crazy good.

carbone

For the pasta course, we ordered pasta alle Vongole and Carbone’s signature spicy rigatoni alle vodka. The pasta with clams was good, but nothing to write home about…sorry not sorry, I dig my version with sourdough bread crumbs more. But the rigatoni, dayyyymn son!! Alex and I are every last bite and wiped up all the sauce with our bread. For such a humble concept, it was a perfectly executed exquisite dish. More on that in a bit.

As a main course, Alex and I shared the cherry pepper ribs. They were ENORMOUS–like, we both could only eat one rib kind of big–but the meat was fall off the bone tender and glazed in a spicy, sweet, and tangy sauce. It took every ounce of self control I had not to pick the rib up and bite into it like a cavewoman. It was served with a light and lemony side salad that balanced out the rich meat.

For dessert, they served us complimentary petit fours and an entire bottle of house-made limoncello that Alex and I were too full to even drink one glass of. I thought that was a really cool way to end the meal though, especially if you were on your way to XS or Hakkassan and needed to get a good buzz going. The meal was a splurge, but I felt like we really got our money’s worth with the appetizers, dessert, and last cocktail all baked in. Next time we go back to Vegas, you betcha we’re going back.

But back to dat magical spicy rigatoni. I went right to work replicating this dish, which turned out to be pretty simple. The heat in it is interesting–because of the rich butter and creamy half and half, the spice is a bit delayed and builds as you chow down. Let the simple flavors of tomatoes, crushed red pepper, and aromatics sing and you really can’t go wrong.

Spicy Rigatoni Alla Vodka (Carbone Copy Cat)

You’ll Need

  • 1 lb of rigatoni pasta. The dry stuff from the grocery store is cool, but I’m extra AF and used the freshly made kind I got last week at the Boston Public Market. SO good.
  • A 28 ounce can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes. You there, yeah you, pony up for the good stuff.
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper. Yep, the kind you sprinkle over pizza. Use half a teaspoon if you’re a wimp.
  • 1 shot of vodka. Ehh, 2 shots so you can drink one while you work. Salud!
  • 3 tablespoons of half and half
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • Kosher salt
  • Olive oil
  • Parmigiano or pecorino cheese. Not the shaker. Grate it fresh like the big kid you are.

Method

  1. Peel and dice up your onion. Throw it in a large sauté or sauce pan with a few generous glugs of olive oil. Over medium heat, let the onion cook down for about 4-5 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and peeled whole garlic cloves, give it a good stir, then let the whole thing cook down for another 4-5 minutes. (So the real Carbone makes supposedly makes their sauce with an onion soubise base, but that requires several extra steps that I find unnecessary for a sauce where onions aren’t the star. Take this shortcut, feel good about it.)
  2. Add the entire can of tomatoes, the shot of vodka, and a couple generous dashes of salt. Vodka…weird right? So what the vodka does is lessen the acidic bite of the tomatoes, making their flavor cleaner, sweeter, and more mild. The butter and cream will have a similar effect to the tomatoes, coming together to make a luscious sexy sauce you’re going to love. (Again, supposedly Carbone doesn’t use vodka in their sauce, but this is a great substitute that mimics the mellow creamy onion soubise step we’re cutting out. Trust!)
  3. Let the sauce simmer on medium-low for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pasta pot of water to a rolling boil and add several generous dashes of salt. Cook your pasta to al dente, the shortest recommended time. This leaves a nice bite in your pasta, keeping it tasting fresh and pleasantly chewy. Seriously keep your soft noodles Olive Garden, get that ish away from me stat. Drain those bad boys, reserving a splash (1/4 cup ish) of the starchy pasta water it was cooked in.
  5. Once your sauce has simmered for a good 20-30 minutes, take it off the burner and let it cool for a few minutes. Transfer the sauce to a blender, and add the butter and half and half. Put the lid on the blender, then wrap your hand down with a towel and hold the lid down as you blend your sauce up til it’s smooth. (The hot sauce ups the chance of the lid flying off due to steam build up. Hot tomato sauce all over your kitchen and person = BAD). Taste and add more salt if needed. Splash in a bit of the pasta water if your sauce looks like it needs more liquid.
  6. Toss the pasta in a big bowl with plenty of sauce. Serve in shallow bowls with fresh grated parmigiano and a drizzle of expensive olive oil on top.

Remix The Dish: Add a sliced chicken breast and plop the pasta onto a bed of wilted spinach for a complete meal. The spicy sauce is a great base and would taste awesome on veggies or fish. I bet it’s divine on those fried chicken cutlets from Whole Foods too!

*Some of these pictures are taken from Google. My iPhone pics didn’t turn out awesome in the low lighting. Deal with it bruh.

Pasta alle Vongole (Linguini with Clams)


I’m reading this book called Salt Acid Fat Heat right now and holy hell…if you have any interest in ever getting “off the book” and acquiring the ability to invent recipes on your own, this a great place to start. It teaches that cooking is all about mastering four key elements–salt, acid, fat, and heat–and shows how great dishes all stem from controlling those factors.

Throughout the book, the author Samin Nosrat refers to common dishes over and over to illustrate how these four key elements play off each other to create familiar flavor profiles we all love. Peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese and tomato soup, and wedge salads are all frequently mentioned along with Pasta alle Vongole, a bright umami-rich pasta dish that’s really pretty simple considering its “wow” factor. I made this a few days ago and I’m still dreaming of that fresh perfect bowl.

The layers of wine, clam juice, lemon juice, and a hint of good cheese create a briny dish that’s elegantly balanced by bright acidity. The crushed red pepper adds depth, and parsley adds freshness. Don’t skip the sourdough breadcrumbs–they provide a textural element, as well as an extra tangy note. Plus they end up soaking up the sauce and tasting delicious, which ya know you don’t want to miss out on.

Adapted from Samin Nosrat. Serves 2 hungry people, with leftovers.

You’ll Need

  • 12 large or 24 small clams. Buy them the day you plan on using them!
  • 3/4 cup of white wine
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch of parsley, minced
  • A small palmful of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Juice of 1/2 a large or one small lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/4 cup of really good parmegiano or pecorino. Fresh stuff, not the garbage in the green shaker.
  • 1/2 a package of linguini
  • 2-3 slices of sourdough bread, toasted til brown and smashed to crumbs
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Method

  1.  First thang first, get a large pot of generously salted pasta water on the boil. The most difficult part of this dish is juggling the time, so you want to make when you drop your pasta in to cook a non-issue. Do your other prep work now too–mince your parsley and garlic, toasts and smash your breadcrumbs, get the butter, cheese, and red pepper flakes out and ready to go.
  2. Gently scrub the clams with a vegetable brush under cold water and rinse thoroughly. In a large saute pan, bring the white wine up to a boil, then reduce to medium high heat. Gently lay half the clams in the wine, cover the pan, and let the clams steam until they open, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the clams, letting the clam juice drain back into the pan for each one, and set in a bowl to cool down. Discard any clams that don’t open within 6 minutes. Repeat with the other half of the clams. The leftover steaming liquid is the entire crux of this recipe…if it has a greenish or blueish tint, don’t freak out, its cool. Pour all of the leftover liquid from the saute pan into a large bowl and set aside. It’s going to be the base of our sauce.
  3. If you’re using large clams, let them cool for a few minutes then gently remove them from their shells and slice into three or four pieces. Clams are one of those things that you really just want a small ladybite of. Discard the shells but keep the accumulated juices in the bowl. Add the clam meat back to the bowl and set aside. NOTE: you can skip this step if you’re using small clams.
  4. Alright, things are about to heat up. Drop your pasta in the boiling water and let it cook for 2 minutes less than the al dente time recommendation. My package said 8 minutes, so I cooked it for 6. Before you drain your pasta, use a ladle or carefully pour about a cup of the starch-rich pasta water to a coffee mug or measuring cup. This step is important, don’t mess it up.
  5. While your pasta is cooking, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil, the crushed red pepper, and the minced garlic to your saute pan over medium low heat and let it bubble and infuse for 3-4 minutes. Keep a close eye on this! Don’t let the garlic brown. Your house should smell awesome right now. Add the wine/clam steaming liquid broth back into your sautee pan and crank the heat to high.
  6. Once the broth starts to bubble, add the par-cooked pasta and turn the heat down to medium while gently tossing the pasta. Add a splash of the pasta water and the butter, and let the whole thing cook down for about 2 minutes. The pasta will absorb the delicious broth while simultaneously thickening it into a light sauce, that should surround every noodle equally. If the pasta looks dry, add a bit more pasta water and let it continue to do its thang. The noodles should look very slippery and well lubricated, but not drowning in broth.
  7. Take the pan off the heat. Add the lemon juice, cheese, parsley, and clam pieces/any accumulated juices, and toss until its all well distributed. Taste and add salt if its needed—but between the salted pasta water, the clam broth, and the cheese, you should probably be good. Serve with a generous handful of breadcrumbs and a drizzle of olive oil.

Remix The Dish: If you’re cooking for a picky eater, portion out their pasta before you mix the clam pieces back in the pasta. Believe it or not, the tangy and umami-rich pasta tastes A LOT like a Caesar salad, and pairs well with chicken as its protein instead. My husband HATES seafood but ate his entire bowl with chicken on top. You could also make this dish with mussels–add a pinch of saffron to the steaming broth, and stir in fresh dices tomatoes with the butter and cheese.


Aglio e Olio–Lightened Up!


If you haven’t seen the movie Chef, drop what you’re doing and catch it on Netflix STAT. It is definitely in my top 10 all time favorites films, Jon Favreau’s passion project which he wrote, directed, and starred in. Chef is a redemption tale of a man trying to reclaim his voice in the kitchen, and finds his way back to his family in the process.

It’s a road movie filled with plenty of funny and charming moments, but (as I’m sure you can guess) the food is just to die for. Jon Favreau manages to capture the heart behind food, whether it’s whipping up gourmet grilled cheese for a child you love, the creative process that happens in the kitchen, the sensuality of feeding your partner on a sexy date night, or going back to an old recipe from the happiest time in your life. One of the food-porniest moments of the film happens when Jon Favreau makes a skillet full of Aglio e Olio (pasta with olive oil and garlic) for Scarlett Johansson, and holy hell so they make it look delicious. (Trust me, this movie clip is everything).

Celeb chef (and you know, The Godfather of modern day food trucks) Roy Choi wrote all the recipes for this movie, and let’s just say the one for his Aglio e Olio is…indulgent. Like, an entire cup of olive oil kind of generous. Considering it’s a Tuesday night, that kind of richness just isn’t going to fly. My trick is to stretch the olive oil by incorporating the starchy water that the pasta boiled in–it thickens up into a light sauce that evenly coats every noodle. Have it ready on your kitchen table in 20 minutes flat.

You’ll Need

  • About 1/2 a package of pasta (any kind will do but there’s something extra satisfying about slurping angel hair or linguini. Today, I used orrichiette!)
  • 2 tablespoons of good olive oil
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, sliced as thin as you can. Like razor-blade-Goodfellas thin.
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon (be sure to zest it first, duh!!
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 fists full of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 4 cups of greens, rough chopped (optional, but a great way to  sneak some good nutrition and fiber into this indulgent dish. I used pea tendrils because that’s what I picked up at the farmer’s market, but spinach, arugula, or Swiss chard is good)
  • 1/2 cup of Parmesan or pecorino
  • A handful of breadcrumbs (optional, but adds a nice textural element. Don’t use the gross bread crumbs that come from the aisle in a grocery store either–toast up a couple slices of French bread or some rolls, or bust out some crostinis and crunch them up with your fingers)

Method

  1. Cook your pasta in salted water according to the instructions on the package, by subtract a minute from the shortest suggested cooking time. You want this pasta al dente…mushy noodles are gross. Plus, it’s going to cook again in a skillet later, and you don’t want them to overcook.
  2. While waiting on your pasta to cook, slice up your garlic, chop your parsley and greens, and zest your lemon.
  3. Before draining your pasta, pour 1/2-3/4s of a cup of the starchy pasta water into a heat-proof measuring cup or a bowl. Dump the pasta into a colander.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium heat, and add the garlic slices and red pepper flakes. Let cook until aromatic but not scorched, about 3 minutes. Keep an eye on it!! As soon as you see the edges of the garlic start to brown, add the pasta water. Let the sauce boil and thicken for about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the pasta, greens, parsley, and a dash of salt in the skillet, and toss until the greens have softened. Add the lemon juice and cheese, and toss again, tasting to see if it needs more salt or red pepper.
  6. Serve garnished with bread crumbs. Delish!!

Remix The Dish: this pasta is pretty much a blank canvas, so toss it with anything you have in your fridge. Leftover chicken, steak,  or shrimp, roasted veggies, or leftover diced crudité would all taste great.