Penne alla Vodka

Penne alla Vodka features penne pasta with an easy, creamy pasta sauce (and, yes, the pasta sauce calls for a bit of vodka)!

Penne alla Vodka features pasta with an easy, creamy pasta sauce (and, yes, the pasta sauce calls for a bit of vodka)!I’m fairly certain adding vodka to a tomato sauce didn’t originate in Italy.  In Italy, adding red wine is fairly common with sauces.  However, as those recipes migrated from the Old Country to America, the alcohol changed from wine to vodka.  So it’s safe to say that vodka sauce is a distinctly Italian-American thing…or perhaps even an American-Italian thing.  Much like Spaghetti & Meatballs.  Or Italian Beef Sandwiches.  That’s ok.  Penne alla Vodka (aka penne pasta with vodka sauce) is delicious, so I’ll just save the red wine and drink it with dinner instead!

Penne alla Vodka features pasta with an easy, creamy pasta sauce (and, yes, the pasta sauce calls for a bit of vodka)!My wife is part-Italian, and Penne alla Vodka has been one of her favorite pastas for pretty much as long as I can remember.  On the few occasions when we went out for Italian food in Atlanta, Penne alla Vodka was always her go-to.  Like most Italian recipes, this recipe is super easy.  In fact, the sauce comes together in about the same time as it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta.  As such, I recommend using the best ingredients possible – San Marzano tomatoes, real Parmesan cheese, fresh basil.  The one place where you can “cheat” is the vodka.  Any standard vodka will do just fine here – no need to reach for the top-shelf stuff.  Save that for your martinis!

Penne alla Vodka features pasta with an easy, creamy pasta sauce (and, yes, the pasta sauce calls for a bit of vodka)!Penne alla Vodka

Vodka sauce is traditionally served with penne pasta, but don’t let that stop you.  We’ve made this sauce several times before using whatever pasta we happened to have in the pantry at the time.  (Oh, who am I kidding?  We always keep an impressive – some might say ridiculous – variety of pastas in our pantry!)  In addition to the obvious vodka, Penne alla Vodka also calls for a bit of heavy cream.  Combining cream with tomato sauce is somewhat uncommon as the acidity in the tomatoes can make the cream separate.  However, in this case, the vodka actually serves as an emulsifier that keeps the sauce from separating.

Penne alla Vodka features pasta with an easy, creamy pasta sauce (and, yes, the pasta sauce calls for a bit of vodka)!If you google various recipes for Penne alla Vodka, you’ll see a wide range in the amounts of cream.  I love the cream in this recipe, but in an effort to be (somewhat) healthy, I’ve gradually pared the cream down to just ½ cup.  (Some recipes call for 1½ cups!)

Thanks to the sugars in the vodka, the sauce for Penne alla Vodka is a little bit sweeter than most tomato sauces.  I personally don’t find it overly sweet, and I think the vodka (or perhaps the cream) does temper the acidity of the tomatoes.  Serious Eats did a really interesting test regarding the amount of vodka recommended for a vodka sauce.  In the end, the result was ¼ cup of vodka per quart of sauce.  And simmering the sauce after adding the vodka was a requirement.

Penne alla Vodka features pasta with an easy, creamy pasta sauce (and, yes, the pasta sauce calls for a bit of vodka)!So does Penne alla Vodka taste like vodka?  No.  At least I don’t think so.  It does taste delicious, and it’s become one of my favorite pasta sauces.  This recipe comes together quickly.  It’s easy enough to make for a weeknight dinner, but it’s still fancy enough to serve at a dinner party.  After all, ears tend to perk up a bit when you say you’re making a sauce with vodka.  Funny how that works, huh?  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do.  Cheers!

Did you make this Penne alla Vodka at home?  Leave a comment.  Or snap a photo and tag me on Instagram (@Spicedblog).  I’d love to see your version of this recipe!

Penne alla Vodka features pasta with an easy, creamy pasta sauce (and, yes, the pasta sauce calls for a bit of vodka)!

Penne alla Vodka

Penne alla Vodka features pasta with an easy, creamy pasta sauce (and, yes, the pasta sauce calls for a bit of vodka)!
5 from 6 votes
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 644kcal

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. penne pasta
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion diced
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 28- oz. can whole plum tomatoes
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ cup half-and-half
  • cup grated Parmesan cheese plus more for serving
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves torn, plus more for serving

Instructions

  • Fill a large stock pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Once cooked, drain in a colander, saving ~1 cup of pasta water. Rinse pasta and set cooked pasta and pasta water aside.
  • Meanwhile, using a Dutch oven or a deep sauté pan, add olive oil and butter; place over medium heat. Once butter has melted, add onion. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes, or until onion begins to soften.
  • Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Continuing sautéing, stirring often, for 1-2 more minutes.
  • Empty can of tomatoes into a large bowl and crush with your hands. (Alternatively, you can empty can into a large ziptip bag and crush tomatoes that way.)
  • Add crushed tomatoes, vodka, tomato paste and salt to the pan; stir until well combined. Continue cooking over medium heat for 13-15 minutes, stirring often.
  • Add half-and-half; stir until well combined. Continue cooking over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring often.
  • Add Parmesan cheese and basil leaves; stir until well combined.
  • Add cooked pasta; toss until pasta is well coated. If needed, add a bit of reserved pasta water to loosen.
  • Divide into bowls and top with additional Parmesan and basil.

Penne alla Vodka features pasta with an easy, creamy pasta sauce (and, yes, the pasta sauce calls for a bit of vodka)!

Looking for more tasty pasta recipes?  Check out some of these other favorites, too:

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana is a classic and delicious Italian pasta dish.  It's loaded with layers of flavor, and it'll become a family favorite for sure!Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

This Garlic Parmesan Sauce is not only creamy and delicious, but it's ready in about the same time it takes to cook pasta.  Coincidence?  I think not!Garlic Parmesan Sauce

Because sometimes you just need Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs for dinner!Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs

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18 Comments

  1. I’ve always loved this sauce, but thought vodka was such a strange ingredient! When I lost the use of my thumbs last year (I’m being dramatic) I started taking shortcuts, and I discovered Scarpetta sauces, which are so good. And my favorite was their vodka sauce. But now I can make your recipe! Thanks!

    1. I totally agree with you, Mimi – vodka always seemed like such a strange addition to pasta sauce. It just didn’t fit. But after reading a bunch about it, I totally see how it works now – I just wonder who originally said, “Hey, let’s add vodka to pasta sauce.” Haha. This is a really easy recipe, and I think you can make it at home – thumbs or not. 🙂 (In all seriousness, I’m glad you have use of your thumbs back!)

  2. 5 stars
    David are you all about adding booze into your recipes at the moment? If so I love that! Ha ha! As I said in your previous recipe (the cream of mushroom soup) I love how you added a little sherry into that for extra flavour. And here I love this rich Italian sauce recipe with vodka!! Bring it on my friend!!

    1. Haha – apparently I am on the booze train lately. It’s purely a coincidence, though, as I rarely cook with alcohol. (I usually prefer to just pour myself a glass of whisky!) Vodka in pasta sauce is an odd one – I admit that. But it’s really popular here in the States. Most pasta sauce companies make a jarred version of vodka sauce. This homemade version is super tasty and super easy. I highly recommend it!

  3. 5 stars
    This does sound delicious, David – I would not think of putting vodka into pasta sauce and I am quite intrigued by what kind of taste/depth of flavour this results in. I might need to give this a go! I assume it’s safe to serve to little ones?

    1. I’m with ya 100% here, Katerina. Vodka seems like such a strange addition to pasta sauce. But it’s a thing. In fact, most sauce brands here in the States have a vodka sauce in their lineup. It’s quite tasty! As far as the little ones, I’m going to say that it’s ok. I don’t this for sure, but I would make an educated guess that the alcohol in the vodka cooks out while the sauce simmers.

  4. Ben’s statement: I hate vodka (Even the way it smells), but I do like Penne alla Vodka. It would be safe to say I love all kinds of pasta, though. I even googled the background info on this recipe, and I was surprised to have learned it’s relatively young recipe – it’s believed it was created in the 1980s. Well, probably this delicious pasta and I were born in the same year lol. I also found out there’s another twist on this recipe – alla vodka with smoked salmon. Whaaat?! I must make it ASAP (Followed by Penne alla Vodka).

    1. You know, I’m not too far off of your opinion here, Ben. I don’t entirely hate vodka, but I would rarely (if ever) reach for a bottle. (I prefer whisky.) But vodka sauce? Delicious! I didn’t realize this concept originated in the 80’s – not very long ago at all!

      Smoked salmon with vodka sauce? That sounds fantastic. I trust that you’ll be making that soon??

    1. I’m with ya, Kathy – pasta is one of the ultimate comfort foods! I highly recommend trying vodka sauce. Like most sauces, there are many versions of this one, but this recipe is quite tasty – and really easy to make, too. I hope you and the family enjoy it! 🙂

  5. 5 stars
    San Marzano tomatoes all the time, there is no other way to make a good pasta sauce. Adding vodka into the mix makes it interesting, I tried it on creamy pasta before but not on tomato based ones, definitely a must try

    1. I completely agree with you, Raymund. The difference between San Marzano and other tomatoes is HUGE. It’s fine when tomatoes are one of many ingredients in the dish, but when the tomato flavor is the main one? San Marzano all the way! Do give this recipe a shot – it’s easy and delicious!

    1. Well look at that – great minds think alike, huh? I really like your idea of bulking this dish up with broccoli and mushrooms. I’ll remember that for the next time we make this. We’ve been going through SO many veggies here lately in our post-holiday detox. 🙂 Cheers, my friend!

  6. 5 stars
    You just described our pantry as well David haha. A RIDICULOUS variety of pasta. In fact, pasta has its own shelf. !!!!!! This Penne all Vodka looks phenomenal! And I love it when the sauce and the pasta finish cooking at about the same time, makes dinner planning so much easier. Really wish I had a bowl of this in front of me now, YUM!!

    1. You know, pasta has its own section of our pantry here, too. The shelves are quite long, so pasta doesn’t have its’ own shelf – but it’s close! It’s a little silly to stop and look at all of the varieties. But I love it!

      This Penne Alla Vodka sounds fancy, but it’s SO easy to make – and it’s packed with flavor, too. That’s a requirement for me. 🙂 Thanks so much, Shannon!

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