Penne Alla Vodka Recipe

For a unique spin on pasta with tomato sauce, why not give this vodka sauce a whirl? It's rich and creamy with enough pizzazz to make it a stand out in your regular dinner lineup. And best of all? It takes only 25 minutes to make.

This sauce starts with a base of onions and garlic, cooked together until tender and aromatic. From there, tomato paste and crushed tomatoes join the party, followed by the not-so-secret star ingredient: vodka.

For recipe developer Michelle Morey of Barefoot in the Pines, the vodka is an essential element, adding "a nice bite to the sauce that helps cut the richness of the cream." A touch of salt and sugar for balance and a hint of crushed red pepper (if you're in the mood), and this sauce is ready to toss with freshly cooked pasta and serve to the whole family.

Yes, the whole family! Don't worry if you have little ones at home, because they can enjoy this as well. "This dish is safe for kids," says Morey. "The vodka simmers with the tomatoes for about ten to 15 minutes, cooking out the alcohol."

Gather the ingredients for penne alla vodka

The ingredients list for this recipe is nice and short, which means you'll want to pick the best-quality ingredients you can afford. If possible, choose San Marzano tomatoes, which boast a rich flavor.

If penne pasta isn't your jam, you can sub your favorite noodle shape — within reason. "Since the dish is all about the sauce, I would recommend picking pasta that the sauce will cling to," suggests Morey. "Anything with ridges or areas where the sauce can get trapped is best. Rigatoni would be a great option, along with ziti, ruffles, and fusilli. Orecchiette and small shells would be great too since they have little cups to hold more sauce!"

Sauté the onion and garlic for penne alla vodka

This sauce begins as so many Italian tomato sauces do: with sautéed aromatics. Start by heating some olive oil in a pan, and add the minced onion. Cook until soft and translucent (about seven minutes) before adding the minced garlic. Garlic should cook only until its aroma permeates your kitchen — about a minute or two. Any longer, and it risks burning and turning your whole sauce bitter.

Add the tomatoes to the sauce

Next, it's time to add the tomato products to the sauce base. Start with the tomato paste, which should fry for just 30 seconds to bring out its flavor before it's joined by the crushed tomatoes. Tomato paste will add richness and sweetness to the quick-cooking sauce that you just wouldn't get from crushed tomatoes alone. These ingredients won't hang out on their own for long, though. It's time for the star to join the party.

Add the vodka to the penne alla vodka sauce

Time to add the vodka! At this point, it's also time to season with salt, crushed red pepper, black pepper, and a touch of sugar.

"Adding sugar to the sauce contributes in two ways," explains Morey. "It cuts the bitterness and any harshness of the vodka, but it also helps freshen up and cut the acidity of canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes tend to not be sweet or very bright, so the sugar helps give canned tomatoes the ripeness and sweetness that a fresh summer garden tomato would."

It's important to cook off the alcohol at this point, so no one is getting drunk on their dinner (and also to reduce the vodka's harsh bite). So, turn up the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a simmer. Then, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the sauce gently for about ten to 15 minutes, stirring frequently to keep the sauce from sticking. In the meantime, cook the pasta according to the package directions.

Add the cream to the sauce for your penne alla vodka

When the sauce has finished simmering, give it a taste and adjust with salt, sugar, or pepper. Then, it's time to add the final ingredient: the cream. Stir it in, and allow it to just heat through, taking care to remove the sauce from the flame before the cream splits. You don't want all your hard work and patience to go to waste with a curdled sauce!

Add the pasta to the sauce

With the sauce finished and the pasta cooked, it's just a matter of tossing everything together. Drain the pasta, and add it directly to the sauce, then toss to coat. Serve with a fresh grating of cheese — and we mean the good stuff. "Don't go for the stuff in the plastic container," warns Morey. "You want the nice dry, aged Parmesan or Romano cheese." All that's left to do is tuck in and enjoy.

Penne Alla Vodka Recipe
5 from 30 ratings
This penne alla vodka is rich and creamy with enough pizzazz to make it stand out in your regular dinner lineup.
Prep Time
Cook Time
penne alla vodka
Total time: 40 minutes
  • 8 ounces penne pasta
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup good-quality vodka
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup finely minced sweet onion (½ medium onion)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • black pepper, to taste
  • olive oil
Optional Ingredients
  • ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet with high sides or a five-quart dutch oven. Add ½ cup finely minced sweet onion and sauté over medium to medium-low heat until soft and translucent, about seven minutes.
  2. Add 1 clove of finely minced garlic and stir, cooking for just a couple of seconds.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds.
  4. Pour in 1 can of crushed tomatoes, ½ cup of vodka, 1 tablespoon of sugar, ½ teaspoon of kosher salt, crushed red pepper (if using), and a few cracks of pepper.
  5. Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and allow the sauce to simmer gently for about ten to 15 minutes. Stir every few minutes to prevent sticking.
  6. While the sauce cooks, cook your pasta in salted boiling water per the pasta manufacturer's instructions.
  7. Once the sauce has finished simmering, taste and adjust the sugar or salt to taste.
  8. Stir in ½ cup of heavy cream and allow to heat through.
  9. Drain the cooked pasta and add to the sauce while it's still hot. Toss to coat. Serve and enjoy.
Calories per Serving 345
Total Fat 11.6 g
Saturated Fat 5.2 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 27.2 mg
Total Carbohydrates 43.7 g
Dietary Fiber 4.3 g
Total Sugars 11.2 g
Sodium 436.4 mg
Protein 7.9 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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