Penne alla Vodka

5 from 1 vote

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Vodka sauce has an additional layer of lushness and richness thanks to the cream, and a deepened flavor thanks to a bit of vodka. It's perfect with penne!

Penne alla Vodka

Slightly creamy, smooth, and tomatoey, vodka sauce is a household favorite. But if you’ve always thought it was tricky to make at home, this Penne alla Vodka recipe will change your mind.

I am no sauce snob. Yes, I make my own, frequently. Yes, I often freeze various pasta sauces to pull out at a moment’s notice. Bolognese, meat sauces of all kinds, and plain old tomato sauce, all tucked into the freezer for defrosting and quick dinners. But I am also never without a couple of jars of store-bought sauce, which have saved me on numerous occasions and saved my family when I am out and about even more.

And it is vodka sauce that I keep on hand more often than not, which has an additional layer of lushness and richness thanks to the addition of cream. I toss it with pasta, I make pasta casseroles with it, I even make English muffin pizzas with it sometimes. But making your own is even better. The addition of fresh cream to fresh sauce is kind of breathtaking, and given how easy it is to make, it’s well worth the small amount of time and energy to treat yourself and your family.

Serve this with penne, ziti, or any pasta you like. The sauce works with both chunky shapes and long skinny pasta like linguine or spaghetti. I always like a green salad with a tomato-based pasta dish, like Caesar Salad, Winter Salad or Fennel and Endive Salad.

Penne alla Vodka in a white bowl.

Penne alla Vodka: Vodka sauce has additional layer of lushness and richness thanks to the addition of cream, and richness thanks to a bit of vodka which boosts all of the flavors.

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Is There Vodka in Penne alla Vodka?

Yes, there is! But it’s a very small amount, and the alcohol burns off in the cooking, so you’re not going to get tipsy from this sauce, much less drunk.

But if you are pregnant or being very cautious about alcohol in your food for any reason, you may want to just skip the vodka. You will still have a terrific creamy tomato sauce, but it won’t be quite as deeply flavored.

Can Kids Have Vodka Sauce?

Same answer: the consensus is that kids can have vodka sauce. There truly isn’t enough alcohol to give anyone a buzz, but you may want to omit it, or find another tomato sauce (see below for recipe suggestions!). I personally am fine with it, but I would never want to tell anyone else what to do with booze + kids or booze + pregnancy.

Woman grabbing Penne alla Vodka with two utensils.

What Does the Vodka Do in Penne Alla Vodka?

Vodka, like all alcohol, is a conduit of flavor, so you don’t really taste the vodka itself; rather, it enhances the flavor of the sauce as a whole. It helps concentrate the taste of this creamy, pink-tomato sauce and doesn’t give the sauce any hints of alcoholic flavor, as wine can. It also helps the sauce become more cohesive, promoting the melding of the cream with the tomatoes.

Kitchen Smarts

You really can use any vodka you have on hand — it doesn’t have to be a pricey bottle. Do not use a flavored vodka! Plain vodka is what you need.

Penne Alla Vodka Ingredients

  • Penne – Or any other pasta.
  • TomatoesCanned whole tomatoes make the sauce quick and easy.
  • Olive oil
  • Onion and garlic – Make sure to mince them all well so the sauce stays smooth and creamy.
  • Red pepper flakes – I love a bit of a kick in all of my tomato sauces.
  • Vodka
  • Heavy cream
  • Oregano – This is optional; if you want to sub in 1 teaspoon dried for the fresh that’s fine.
  • Parmesan cheese – Some goes into the sauce, some is passed on the side for sprinkling.
  • Parsley – Brings a bit of freshness to the dish at the end.
Penne alla Vodka in a glass dish.

How to Make Penne alla Vodka

  1. Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and cook the penne according to the package directions. When it’s done, drain, and return it to the pot
Cooking penne or ziti in boiling water and draining.
  1. Make the tomato sauce: This basic tomato sauce is made with onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, and, of course, tomatoes. Add the vodka and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes. Then stir in the cream and oregano, if using.
Woman sprinkling salt and pouring cream into a pot of tomato sauce.
  1. Add cheese: Add 3/4 cup Parmesan, and adjust the seasonings as needed. 
Woman stirring Parmesan into a pot of tomato cream sauce.
  1. Combine pasta and sauce: Pour as much sauce as you like into the pot with pasta; you will have leftover sauce to use later in the week. Stir until the pasta is well-coated.
Stirring tomato vodka sauce and penne in pot.
  1. Serve: Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the chopped parsley. Pass additional Parmesan on the side for those who want it.
Woman sprinkling parmesan cheese onto a bowl of Penne alla Vodka.

Tips and Variations

  • If you want a super smooth sauce, you can puree it with an immersion blender in the pot or in a food processor or blender. Make sure to work in batches if you use the blender or food processor as the hot sauce can cause the steam to pop off the lid, which could be dangerous.
  • Penne alla Vodka with Meat: For a meaty vodka sauce, all you have to do is add about 1/2 pound browned and drained ground beef, pork, or turkey at the end and allow it to heat through in the sauce.

What to Serve With Penne alla Vodka

Penne alla Vodka in bowls on table with salad.

More Comforting Tomato Sauce Pasta Recipes

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5 from 1 vote

Penne alla Vodka

Vodka sauce has an additional layer of lushness and richness thanks to the cream, and a deepened flavor thanks to a bit of vodka. It's perfect with penne!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 6 People
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Ingredients 

  • Kosher salt (to taste)
  • 1 pound dried penne
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 6 cloves garlic (smashed)
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (optional)
  • ¾ cup finely grated Parmesan (plus extra for serving)
  • Freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • Chopped parsley (for garnish)

Instructions 

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the penne according to package directions, just until al dente, about 11 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, pulse the tomatoes in a food processor with their juice until fairly well chopped, but not totally smooth. You can also do this by hand; make sure to mix the juice back into the chopped tomatoes.
  • While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until pale golden brown, about 5 minutes; turn the heat down if the onions seem to be browning too rapidly. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring for 2 more minutes, allowing the garlic to become fragrant and golden, but not brown. Add the tomatoes and the vodka, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Stir in the cream, oregano (if using), and 3/4 cup Parmesan. Adjust the seasonings as needed, and stir until it is hot throughout, just barely bubbling at the edges, and the cheese has completely melted into the sauce.
  • Drain the cooked pasta and return it to the pot. Pour in as much sauce as you like (you will likely have leftover sauce to use later in the week). Stir until the pasta is well-coated.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the chopped parsley. Pass additional Parmesan on the side for those who want it.

Notes

  • If you want a super smooth sauce, you can puree it with an immersion blender in the pot or in a food processor or blender. Make sure to work in batches if you use the blender or food processor as the hot sauce can cause the steam to pop off the lid, which could be dangerous.
  • Penne alla Vodka with Meat: For a meaty vodka sauce, all you have to do is add about 1/2 pound browned and drained ground beef, pork, or turkey at the end and allow it to heat through in the sauce.

Nutrition

Calories: 602kcal, Carbohydrates: 73g, Protein: 18g, Fat: 25g, Saturated Fat: 11g, Cholesterol: 52mg, Sodium: 590mg, Potassium: 765mg, Fiber: 6g, Sugar: 10g, Vitamin A: 919IU, Vitamin C: 28mg, Calcium: 281mg, Iron: 4mg
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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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