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Scialatelli with Tomato Cream Sauce and Shrimp

Scialatelli with Tomato Cream Sauce and Shrimp

Cream, Elizabeth David reported to us (Italian Food), "is rarely used in Italy for the cooking of meat, fish or sauces as it is in France." This detail, however, didn't deter some chef in the 80's from adding cream to tomato sauce, tossing in some vodka and introducing Penne with Vodka Sauce. (Why is it always penne, I wonder?) This dish had a viral run of popularity in the 80's and even today is found on menus all over the world. Recipes for it can be found for it that tout it as an Italian traditional dish, which if true refers only to a "tradition" of about twenty years in length and based on a dish imported to Italy from the U.S!

On the other hand, Marcella Hazan (Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking) has a "Pink Shrimp Sauce with Cream," which, while omitting the vodka, is pretty much like all the vodka sauce recipes. While she calls it an "elegant and lively sauce," she doesn't shed any light on its origins, though I think given the title of her book I'd hope I'm within bounds if I assume the sauce is of classic origins. (She recommends tagliatelle or pappardelle, by the way.)

There's also Alfredo Sauce, popularized by a restaurant in Rome and served by the tankerload at Olive Garden, which includes cream in every version I've seen. Hazan has it in her book as well (where she calls it "Cream and Butter Sauce" but references Alfredo Sauce in the introduction). I was surprised to find it in her book,  since the version actually developed and served at the original Alfredo's restaurant is made only with cheese and butter, and Italians are in general unaware of the cream-based "Alfredo sauce," except as a reverse import. I suppose, however, books for the American market have to contain dishes that Americans expect to find.

None of these authenticity issues, however, got in my way last night when I got a request from E, my most faithful regular diner,  for a creamy pink sauce with shrimp and pasta, so I read three or four of the thousands of recipes for Vodka Sauce on the web (from Emeril to Epicurious) and went to work. This version, which brings in pancetta and shallots and introduces a hint of garlic, was exactly the silky comfort food we were looking for on a snowy night by the fire. Authentic? I don't think so. Good food? Definitely!

By the way, I used the meaty Amalfi style of pasta called scialatelli (imported by Pirro), which is basically a thicker round spaghetti. These thick strands, I think, lent to the hearty feeling the dish had. In the absence of scialatelli, I'd use linquine, I guess, or maybe even...penne.

Scialatelli with Tomato Cream Sauce and Shrimp

8 oz scialatelli or other dried pasta   
1 lb shrimp, peeled, rinsed and dried (I use 16/20 size, but smaller ones can be used)
3 oz pancetta, diced
1/2 C minced shallots
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded, chopped
3 T butter
1/3 C vodka
3/4 C heavy cream
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 C Parmeggiano Reggiano, shredded
2 T minced fresh parsley

Melt the butter in a sauté pan and then add the pancetta. Cook rapidly until the pancetta begins to crisp at the edge. Remove pancetta to a side plate. Add shallots and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Remove shallots to the side plate.

Add the vodka to the pan and flame it. When the flame has died, add the cream and chopped tomato. Stir well and simmer 5 minutes.

Cook the pasta al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small sauté pan until hot but not yet smoking. Toss in the shrimp and sear them until the translucent parts just turn white and the edges start to brown (about 60 seconds on one side, 30 on the other). Remove shrimp to a side plate.

Just before the pasta is ready, turn the heat under the sauce to high, add the cheese, garlic, parsley and most of the shrimp and stir to combine. When the pasta is finished, lift it with tongs directly into the sauce, allowing some of the pasta-water to ride along. Rapidly stir and toss the pasta in the sauce, coating it well. Serve immediately, garnished with the reserved shrimp and a scattering of parsley if desired.


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isn't there also the "rule" that true italian cooking never mixes cheese and seafood?

i, *ahem*, happen to do styling for a certain chain of italian restaurants. true to their word, we make everything from scratch for the shoots - just like they do in their restaurants. one would think that the alfredo sauce (not the worst-for-you sauce on the menu, btw) would come in a big VAT...but it doesnt.

i digress :) your recipe looks great..and its neet to see an unusual type of pasta used. thanks!

Any way you slice it, pasta and cream are a thing of beauty.

Interesting addition with the shrimp. It looks delicious!

And why do they always make penne alla vodka with penne??? I'm guessing it's because the short, tubular pasta is perfect for trapping lots of sauce. Although in our home we often enjoy penne alla vodka with spaghetti ... yes we're rebels!


This is more a question than a comment, but I wish you would provide a recipe for pure tomato sauce---I grew up in Portland Maine, and my family frequently ate at places like Valle's, The Sportsman's Grill, even The Hollow Reed. I now live in Nashville, Tennessee and the closest thing I can get to that good home cooked Italian is (unfortunately) The Olive Garden!
Can you (or any other reader) provide me with a recipe for the thick, red 'Sunday Gravy' served at Valle's or Sportsman's Grill?

Stephanie Paule

I think rules are specifically made just so they can be broken. And I love the combination of ingredients you've used so while it might be against the rules in Italy, aren't you glad you're in Maine?

Thanks for sharing

That rule only applies to sprinkling the grated cheese on the top of a seafood sauce. They are very picky about this in Italy. One day my father (who is Neapolitan) went out to eat in Amalfi. He ordered a seafood sauce and asked for some grated cheese. The waiter told my father it was bad etiquette to do so. My father simply stated, "That's okay. I wont tell." Anyway, sauces with cream or cheese with seafood go back centuries... there is no rule about that.

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