Penne alla Vodka: the fantastic, simple recipe for perfect Italian pasta with vodka sauce

Total time: 50 Min
Difficulty: Low
Serves: 4 people
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By Cookist

Penne alla vodka is an incredibly flavorful, simple-to-make Italian dish that first appeared in the 1980s, and thanks to its enduring popularity, you can still find this tasty pasta dish on the menu of many Italian restaurants.

Made with tender penne pasta tossed in a creamy, spicy vodka-infused tomato sauce, pasta alla vodka is a fast, delicious dish you can make in under half an hour, which makes it perfect for busy weeknights when you're in the mood for a hearty, satisfying meal that doesn't skimp on flavor.

Penne with vodka sauce is easy to customize – you can switch up the type of pasta you use, make it more or less spicy, add meat, chicken, vegetables, or seafood to it. Just about anything goes!

Pasta alla Vodka Ingredients

You'll need a few key ingredients to make the perfect penne alla vodka.

First, you'll need tomatoes. San Marzano is the best type, but Roma and plum work well, too.

Garlic, onion, oregano, and basil all help flavor the sauce.

Vodka is a must – you don't need to use your top-shelf vodka here. Any decent quality vodka will do.

Chili flakes add spice, while heavy cream and parmesan cheese give vodka sauce its wonderfully rich texture.

Of course, you also need penne pasta.

How to Make Penne alla Vodka

To make the best penne with vodka sauce, start by bringing a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook it according to the directions on the box. Don't forget to save ½ cup of pasta water! Drain the pasta and set it to the side.

In the meantime, sauté your onions over medium heat. Add in the diced pancetta if using, garlic and chili flakes and sauté everything until the garlic becomes fragrant about 1 minute. Turn the heat off, and mix in the tomatoes, vodka, salt, and pepper. Put the heat back on and allow the mixture to come to a simmer over medium-high. Turn down the heat and gently cook the sauce until the vodka has cooked off for about 15 minutes.

Whisk the heavy cream into the sauce and cook until it's heated through. Mix in parmesan, basil, and oregano. Add in the pasta, and toss it well to coat. If the sauce is too thick, add a little pasta water until it reaches your desired consistency. Garnish with extra basil and parmesan, if using, and serve immediately.

Does Vodka Sauce Call for Vodka?

Yes, vodka sauce requires vodka. But don't worry, the alcohol burns off completely by the time the sauce has finished cooking, so you can eat penne alla vodka or serve it to children without anyone becoming drunk.

Be sure not to rush it – let the sauce simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes. This way you can be confident the alcohol in the vodka has totally evaporated.

Tips for Penne with Vodka Sauce

If you can find them, San Marzano tomatoes have the best flavor, however, Roma or plum tomatoes will be tasty as well.

You don't need to stick with penne when making pasta all vodka. Any type of tube pasta like ziti, rigatoni, or other shapes like shells and orecchiette also work.

Heavy cream will give your vodka sauce the best flavor, but you can use whole milk in a pinch.

To make vegan vodka sauce, use coconut milk instead of heavy cream and vegan cheese instead of parmesan.

Wait until the smell of the vodka has completely burnt off before adding in the heavy cream.

Pasta alla Vodka Variations

For more spice, add more red pepper flakes.

If you prefer a milder sauce, reduce the amount of pepper flakes or leave them out altogether.

For a heartier penne alla vodka, add pancetta, prosciutto, bacon, chicken, shrimp, or veggies.

You can swap out the parmesan for other types of cheese such as Grana Padano, pecorino, cheddar, or mozzarella.

What to Serve with Penne alla Vodka

Serve your penne alla vodka with a light green salad, a side of garlic bread or homemade dinner rolls (perfect for mopping up that tasty sauce!), roasted mixed vegetables, or focaccia.

How to Store Penne alla Vodka

Pasta alla vodka will last up to 3 days when stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

You can make the sauce ahead of time – it'll last up to one week in the fridge.

Can You Freeze Vodka Sauce?

Sauces with cream and cheese don't freeze well because they tend to separate. The good news is you can still freeze your vodka sauce.

To freeze vodka sauce, once you've added the vodka and tomatoes and simmered the sauce, but before adding the cream and cheese, let the sauce cool, then place it in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

When you're ready to use it, let it thaw, then add the cream and parmesan as outlined in the recipe.

Crushed tomatoes
1 28-oz can
Extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp
onion, minced
1/2 cup
Garlic cloves, minced
3 to 4
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup
Red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp
Heavy Cream
2/3 cup
parmesan cheese, finely shredded
1/4 cup
fresh oregano, chopped
1 tbsp
fresh basil, chopped (optional)
1/4 cup
penne pasta, plus reserved pasta water
14 ounces
extra shredded parmesan cheese for serving (optional)
pancetta, diced (optional)


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook it to al dente according to the instructions on the packet. When done, save ½ cup of pasta water, drain the rest, and set aside.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the oil in a skillet.

Sauté the onions over medium heat. Cook them for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic and chili flakes. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the pancetta, if using.

Take the skillet off the heat. Stir in the vodka.

Add the tomatoes. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and cook until the alcohol in the vodka has burned off, about 15 minutes.

Whisk the heavy cream into the sauce.

Cook for 1 minute, or until heated through. Mix in parmesan, basil, and oregano.

Add the sauce to the pasta, and toss to coat. If the sauce is too thick, add a little pasta water until it reaches your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Garnish with extra basil and parmesan if using, and serve immediately.

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