This Penne alla Vodka recipe is the perfect blend of tomato, vodka, heavy cream, garlic, and onions simmered together to make a unique, pink sauce.
Penne with Vodka Sauce Recipe
John loves comfort food like broccoli cheese soup or chicken paprikash. Our son adores a good Shepherd’s pie or French onion casserole. Me? Give me all the pasta! Penne alla vodka is one of my top five pasta favorites. Spaghetti arrabiata is up there, too, along with Giuseppe’s pasta from a restaurant in South Florida called Flanigan’s.
We have a similar tomato basil pasta recipe that’s pretty close, so whenever I get a craving for that South Florida favorite I make it. Penne alla vodka is one that I make often. It’s not too complicated, and we all love it!
It’s a simple sauce of sautéed onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes combined with tomato sauce, heavy cream, and of course, vodka! Toss that pink sauce with perfectly cooked penne, and you’ve got an amazing dish.
We even made an Instant Pot penne alla vodka version, and a couple of spin off recipes with similar ingredients. One is our Instant Pot Creamy Tomato Pasta and the other is Slow Cooker Creamy Chicken Pasta. Both are delicious and very popular with our readers.
How to Make Penne alla Vodka:
- First, gather all the ingredients needed and prep them in bowls or cups. Go ahead, and chop the garlic and onions. The recipe tends to move quickly once it gets going, so it’s best to have everything prepped and ready.
- Next, cook your pasta noodles, per the box instructions. Keep about a 1/4 cup of pasta water to use in the vodka sauce if it’s too thick.
- Melt 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil together in a large saucepan. Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (adjust to taste or omit if desired).
- Cook over low-medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and sauté for an additional 30 seconds to a minute just until the garlic becomes fragrant.
- Pour in 1/2 a cup of vodka, and stir to combine. *If you are working with an open flame, turn off the flame before pouring the vodka.
- Please note, it’s important to let the alcohol cook out of the vodka before adding other ingredients. Otherwise, your sauce will taste boozy. That boozy taste is great in a vodka cranberry cocktail, but it’s not so tasty in penne alla vodka.
- Let the vodka sauce cook for about 15 minutes and then add the tomato sauce, salt, and pepper.
- Reduce the heat to low, and slowly stir in the heavy cream. Continue to stir to incorporate the heavy cream.
- Bring the vodka sauce to a steep, but don’t let it bubble or boil; otherwise, the cream may curdle. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, then remove from heat.
- Toss the cooked noodles with vodka sauce. If the sauce is too thick, use a little of the reserved pasta water to loosen it up. If it’s fine, toss out the pasta water.
- Serve the penne alla vodka with shaved Parmesan, fresh basil, a baguette slice, and a side salad.
Tips and Variations:
- If you’d like to add a protein to your penne alla vodka, try this Penne alla Vodka with Pancetta or toss on some grilled shrimp.
- Add from peas for some added veggies.
- Swap out the vodka for red wine for a different flavor profile.
- Serve with roasted garlic, plenty of fresh basil, and shave Parmesan cheese.
If the vodka is cooked down properly, you won’t be able to taste it. However, if it’s not cooked out, the pasta can have an alcohol or boozy flavor that can be quite strong.
The vodka interacts with the tomato sauce to bring out flavors that may not be noticeable otherwise. It also emulsifies the sauce and helps hold the heavy cream and tomato sauce together. Normally the fat in the cream and the acid in the tomato would cause the sauce to separate.
For an alcohol based substitution, try silver tequila, white rum, or red wine. For a non-alcoholic swap, try water mixed with a couple tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice. Any of these substitutions may change the flavor of the pasta from the original version.
Cooked chicken, rotisserie chicken, ham, shrimp, bacon or pancetta would all make great additions.
Yes, you can freeze vodka sauce. I’d recommend making the vodka sauce without the noodles and freezing it in batches.
Allow the sauce to cool completely, then transfer it to freezer-safe containers or zip top bags. The vodka sauce should freeze well for up to 3 months.
Refrigerator: Penne alla stores well in the refrigerator for about 3 days.
Freezer: We don’t recommend freezing the finished dish, but the vodka sauce does freeze well by itself. Allow the sauce to cool completely, then transfer it to freezer-safe containers or zip top bags. The vodka sauce should freeze well for up to 3 months.
Reheating: Reheat chilled pasta in a saucepan over low heat. Add a splash of milk or heavy cream if needed to loosen the sauce.
Place the frozen vodka sauce in the refrigerator to thaw before adding it to pasta noodles or reheating.
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- 16 ounces penne cooked, drained with 1/4 cup pasta water reserved (per package directions)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup white onion diced
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 garlic cloves minced or pressed
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Cook the penne according to package directions. Drain, but reserve 1/4 cup pasta water. Set noodles aside.16 ounces penne
- Melt butter and olive oil together in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and red pepper flakes. Cook until onions are translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute.3 tablespoons unsalted butter1 tablespoon olive oil1 cup white onion1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes4 garlic cloves
- Pour in the vodka, and allow the alcohol to cook out, about 15 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer for an additional 5 minutes.1/2 cup vodka1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauceSalt and pepper
- Reduce the heat to low, and add heavy cream. Stir to combine. Don’t allow the sauce to become too hot or cream could break or curdle. Bring sauce to a simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, then remove from heat.1 cup heavy cream
- Toss the noodles with the sauce, and use the reserved pasta water to thin out the sauce if needed. Top with grated parmesan and fresh basil. Serve immediately.
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.