"Overall, you can’t go wrong with a pasta recipe, and this one is easy to make and absolutely delicious. Plus, you can make it your own by adding your own ingredients. So if I were to grade Gigi Hadid’s recipe, I’d give it an A minus—only because I think my version of her recipe was an A plus!" Brooke Schuldt/The Spruce Eats
I actually began this post as part of my Specks collection. I didn't think there was much to say, and that it was an Instagram curiosity, but as I got into it I could see that the piece was getting longer and longer and so probably deserved a post of its own. So here I am a couple of days later about to try again.
This picture is a version of what is generally called the Gigi Hadid pasta recipe from a website called Hungry for That. And I have to say it looks pretty nice, if not necessarily sensational. So why this name?
Well that's how this whole thing started. Not being a partaker of the Instagram and TikTok world I had no idea who Gigi Hadad was/is. Well I'm almost 80 years old, so perhaps I'm off the hook. I now know that she's a supermodel and just to show how hugely out of date I am with this one, back in 2020 she posted on Instagram a quick recipe for a pasta which she called Spicy vodka pasta. So out of date am I in fact that this particular craze has moved out of the realm of social media and on to the supermarket shelves - at least in the UK. Which knowledge I gained from my Guardian newsletter, which is where this all began. I thought it intriguing enough to at least slot it into an oddments post. Although when I started researching I discovered there's so much more to this than at first appears.
How to approach this? Untraditionally I'll start with the end rather than the beginning I think. And please note that Instagram/TikTok is somewhere in the middle.
The end is this product, just launched on to British supermarket shelves - maybe America too - Heinz is American isn't it? But not here in Australia. The fact that this is three years later and these massive companies thought it worthwhile implies that the recipe was more than a one minute wonder - it is still a viral thing. And if the number of versions available online is any indication then that is certainly true. Just about everyone is doing it. However, not quite everyone, which I shall come to.
So what is this product? It's a pasta sauce made as a collaboration between Heinz and Absolut the vodka makers, based on that Instagram recipe. According to Jamie Ray co-founder of Buttermilk, a specialist brand and influencer agency, this is becoming more of a thing:
“For brands, it’s about looking at what is making viral moments, [then thinking], OK, influencers are dictating that this trend is really going somewhere, we need to incorporate that in our next line of products.”
So even if this dish is amazingly simple you can now make it even simpler by just chucking the contents of a jar of sauce into your pasta - for several times the price I'm guessing. Cooking time not really shortened because you still have to cook your pasta, and you cook the sauce whilst the pasta is cooking, price doubled at least I'm guessing, and time added for the shopping too. But maybe it will walk off the shelves. Who knows.
Apparently Gigi Hadid's post went viral but just to demonstrate how fast the world moves these days, it seems to have disappeared from the internet. I really wanted to post it here, so apologies. I could not find it anywhere, not even on YouTube which seems to collect such things. Actually late yesterday I may have found that it's available on Netflix of all places. But it was a bit unclear. And maybe if you are an Instagram member you can find it.
Don't worry though there are countless people out there all posting their own videos of how to make it. And the recipe I linked to at the top of the page is, I'm pretty sure, the original version.
Now let's go to the beginning of the story. I noticed on my first search page, that Wikipedia had an article on Penne alla vodka (this version is from the BBC) and there I found that Gigi Hadid's dish is really not that original. It has history. However, even the history is questionable. Is it Italian, or is it Italian/American - that burgeoning cuisine - for example? Not that anyone can agree anyway. And do we care? Well probably not, but these possible urban myths are marginally interesting - particularly the Russian one. So here they are - in brief.
Number one - invented in New York City - of course it was - by a chef called Luigi Franzese - in the 1970s. Wikipedia did not mention this one - so maybe the article was written by Italians?
Number two - invented by Italian actor Ugo Tognazzi who, in 1974, published a cookbook in which there was a recipe for Pasta all infuriata, which was "made with ½ kg of penne, ½ kg of fresh peeled tomatoes, a shot of vodka, chili pepper, oil, garlic, and bay leaves" . The recipe is based on the arrabbiata sauce, and Jamie Oliver also has a version of this which he calls Double whammy arrabbiata. It's not quite the same, it's spaghetti and there is no vodka or cream, (neither does Ugo Tognazzi's version) but I guess it demonstrates, through the chillies, the relationship to our modern day Penne alla vodka.
Numbers three and four - invented in a restaurant called Dante in Bologna (I don't know when) or by a Roman chef for a vodka company who wanted to advertise their product in the 80s.
Number five - the Russian connection. Not quite the same thing because it included smoked salmon and caviar and was named Penne alla muscovita but it was popular in the 80s in the discos of the Emilia Romagna Riviera. In 2016 it was rediscovered and was proposed for World Pasta Day which was hosted by Moscow that year - as a symbol of the friendship between Italy and Russia. And it was a hit. I wonder if the friendship still holds? In 2016 though it was a hit.
Today apparently Penne alla vodka is the second most popular pasta search on the net after alla Bolognese. But maybe that's all down to Gigi Hadid. Who, to my amazement, was also not mentioned by Wikipedia. Obviously the people who contribute to Wikipedia are my generation and out of the Instagram/TikTok loop.
So here we are back in the middle of the story with Gigi Hadid who is American with Dutch and Palestinian heritage. And one day she decides to post a picture of the dinner she was making for herself, and being Gigi Hadid and it not being a bad recipe - even delicious - everyone seems to think so - it goes viral. Now if I had posted it, it wouldn't have. And since it is only a slight variation on an already popular pasta dish, I'm sure that many other people had already tried such a thing. After all, the variation from the traditional is apparently simply that she just made it with orecchiette instead of penne or rigatoni, and added some red pepper flakes. And here is the amazing thing - she didn't even use vodka as she was pregnant at the time!
So what are the things you should bear in mind when making this dish?
"Be thoughtful about the vodka, be thoughtful about the tomatoes" Daniel Gritzer/Serious Eats
So what about that vodka? Vodka after all is pretty tasteless. And before I launch into why, let me say that there are a vast number of respectable, even renowned chefs out there who cannot agree on whether the vodka is necessary or not. Some say you absolutely have to have it. Some say that it makes no difference.
Here I turn to two different authorities. First of all Wikipedia, which says:
"this dish generally contains cream sauce mixed with marinara sauce or tomato paste, which are a combination unusual in Italian cooking because the acidity of the tomatoes tends to make the oil in the cream separate. The ethanol (vodka) serves as an emulsifier, allowing the water and lipids to remain mixed together." Wikipedia
Then I turned to Serious Eats which takes these things very seriously. Daniel Gritzer has a video that demonstrates the dish, but in his blurb on the website he references his colleague, J. Kenji Lòpez-Alt who had done a series of fairly complicated kind of Goldilocks tests to see if the dish was improved by vodka or not, and if the amount you added was crucial. And it turns out that it does - and not just for the emulsifying effect:
"So to answer the question: yes! Vodka does alter the flavor of the sauce in a pleasing way. It adds a touch of heat and a bit of a sharp bite that help balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes and the cream. Is it absolutely necessary? No, but vodka sauce just wouldn't be, well, vodka sauce without it."
He, by the way recommended 2% of vodka - or to the Americans - 1/4 cup to a quart of sauce. And Gigi Hadid, who might not have used the vodka on the particular day she posted her video, did suggest adding it - but a very small amount - a tablespoon or so I seem to remember.
An interview in Broadsheet with Casey Wall, chef at the Capitano restaurant in Carlton, said that they did not use vodka, but used a lot of butter which emulsified the sauce. It's their most popular dish.
And what about the tomatoes Gigi only uses tomato paste. Some use passata, and a very few use tomatoes too - although these are the people who are not referencing Gigi at all. Like Daniel Gritzer who says:
"My solution: Use both an entire tube (or can) or tomato paste, plus a small can of whole peeled tomatoes. Combined, they yield a sauce that's nuanced and layered, with richness, depth, and brightness. It's a winner." Daniel Gritzer
Then there's the question of cheese - there seems to be a variety of opinion on that too - but that, like the chilli, is probably more down to personal preference.
Here in Australia, and over there in the UK, and perhaps among the more traditional Italian/American communities the dish is really much more likely to be based on and occasionally varied from, the 'original' Penne alla vodka - so I chose three examples: Penne al vodka from Joe Trivelli who is now in charge of the kitchen at River Café in London and which he says was taught to him by the late Rose Gray; Nigella's pretty standard version of Penne alla vodka and she is a fan of the vodka and Phoebe Wood of delicious. here in Australia who makes Tomato vodka rigatoni.
I wondered whether the gurus of super modern food - Ottolenghi et al. had done amazing things with this, really most basic of recipes. Basic but also pretty intriguing. I mean - vodka? Vodka is not an Italian thing and, as I said, has no flavour. Anyway I couldn't find anything from the trendies.
However, I did find this Gochujang pasta with vodka from The Pyper's Kitchen. In her (Joni's) words:
"one day I was making something with my beloved Gochujang and thought to myself… this stuff looks just like tomato paste. And then… what do I usually do with tomato paste? And then… what if I used this stuff INSTEAD of tomato paste? And so… creamy Gochujang Vodka Pasta was born."
I also had to smile just a little when she said:
"And it is so good I demand you try it. I promise that pretty soon you’ll also be saying Gigi who?? Which is what I say anyway because I’m a mom and really have no idea who Gigi is. No offense Gigi."
Well she's perky enough, and pretty too but not quite Gigi I suppose. Although - given the right stylist ...
Last question - well thought really. This is a pretty calorie laden dish - all that pasta and cream and cheese, and yet it comes from a supermodel. Go figure.