Why It Works
- Swapping dry, grated mozzarella with torn chunks of fresh mozzarella keeps the pizza from being overly rich or greasy.
- Ladling slightly more vodka cream sauce onto the dough prevents it from breaking as it reduces in the oven.
Our office used to be located at the epicenter of the vodka pizza universe, what with both Pomodoro (R.I.P.) and Rubirosa a couple blocks away. The former was not great—overly greasy, unspectacular crust, and candy-sweet sauce—while the latter continues to be spectacular. Crisp and charred with a pleasant chew like all great pizza, it's got a creamy vodka sauce that is just rich enough that you know you're not eating regular pizza, but not so rich that you feel like your stomach may fall out or involuntarily empty itself in protest by the time you're done. It's a great alternative when you've been stuck in a pizza rut, and a recipe that's good to have in your own home arsenal.
Spectacular is what we're after at home.
What's the secret to their success? A few things.
#1: Great Crust
A pizza, no matter how interesting or excellent the toppings, is only ever as good as its crust. While Rubirosa makes thin, Long Island-style bar pies, I prefer the slightly less crackery chew of a good New York-style crust, for which we, luckily, already have a pretty stellar recipe.
Baking the pizza on a baking steel will help ensure that you get the crisp bottom and nice charring that gives crust flavor (a stone will do, but not quite as well). With that in place, you've already got a huge leg up over the pale, wan slices at Pomodoro.
#2: Great Sauce
Making vodka sauce is not quite as simple as adding cream and booze to basic marinara sauce, but it's pretty darn close. In order to counteract the palate-dulling richness provided by the cream and slight sweetness of the alcohol, you need to season a vodka sauce with salt a little more aggressively than you normally would, and add a significantly larger amount of heat in the form of crushed red pepper flakes.
This spice, along with the back-of-the-throat heat that the alcohol provides, gives vodka sauce its characteristic punch.
And in case you were wondering, yes, the vodka really matters when you are making vodka sauce.
The recipe I use for my pizza is largely based on our penne alla vodka recipe, though it's been tweaked a bit with some more cream and different seasoning.
#3: Get The Right Cheese
Early in my testing, I made a number of vodka pizzas with regular old grated dry mozzarella—the cheese of choice for a standard New York slice. It didn't come out so hot. With the richness of the vodka sauce and the fattiness of the cheese, the pie proved overwhelmingly greasy, despite having decent flavor.
It sliced alright, but as soon as I lifted it up, the entire sloppy contents of the surface poured off in a hot, wet pile. Yuck.
A much better bet is to use fresh mozzarella that's been lightly drained. It melts into creamy blobs instead of a greasy slick.
#4: Apply Sauce Sparingly (But Not Too Sparingly)
A normal tomato sauce can be applied sparingly because nothing really happens to it when it loses moisture as it cooks. It reduces and concentrates in flavor, but that's about it.
I tried making a vodka pie using the same amount of sauce I'd typically use for a New York pie (about two-thirds of a cup for a whole pie) and found that by the time the pizza was cooked, enough moisture had evaporated from the sauce that the cream broke, turning into a greasy pool with little curdled bits of milk solids floating around. You need to apply just enough to keep it from breaking, but not so much that it weighs down the pie.
It's not tough, just a few small details. Get all of this right, and you've got a vodka pizza really worth eating.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly broken up by hand
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup vodka
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 recipe basic New York pizza dough, divided and risen at least 2 hours (see notes)
1 pound fresh mozzarella (preferably buffalo milk), torn into rough 3/4- to 1-inch chunks and drained in a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl
12 to 16 basil leaves
Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic, oregano, and pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes. Increase heat to high, bring to a boil, then reduce to a bare simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by 1/4, about 20 minutes. Add heavy cream, increase heat to bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and continue to cook until reduced again by 1/4, about 20 minutes longer. Add vodka and cook for 7 minutes. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Let sauce cool slightly, then transfer half of sauce to the jar of a blender. Blend, starting on lowest speed and gradually increasing to high until completely smooth, about 2 minutes total. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl. Repeat with remaining half of sauce. (For storing extra sauce, see Make-Ahead and Storage below).
At least 45 minutes before baking, place a baking stone or steel on an oven rack set to the top position and preheat oven to 550°F (290°C).
Turn single dough ball out onto lightly flour surface. Gently press out dough into rough 8-inch circle, leaving outer 1-inch higher than the rest. Gently stretch dough by draping over knuckles into a 12 to 14-inch circle about 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to pizza peel.
Spread approximately 3/4 cup of sauce evenly over surface of crust, leaving 1/2 to 1-inch border along edge. Place 8 to 10 chunks of mozzarella evenly over surface of pizza and scatter with 4 to 5 basil leaves. Drizzle with about 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Slide pizza onto stone or steel and bake until cheese is melted and crust underbelly is spotty brown, 6 to 12 minutes total. Remove from oven with metal pizza peel, transfer to cutting board, slice, and serve. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with remaining ingredients to make 2 additional pizzas.
Store-bought dough can be used in place of homemade. Use about 10 ounces of store-bought dough per pizza.
Make-Ahead and Storage
This recipe will make more sauce than is needed for three pizzas. Extra sauce can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Serve with pasta, if desired.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 36g||46%|
|Saturated Fat 16g||79%|
|Total Carbohydrate 71g||26%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||13%|
|Total Sugars 7g|
|Vitamin C 38mg||191%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|