This is the best penne alla vodka recipe you are ever going to make at home! It’s authentic and packed full of delicious, decadent flavor.

Serve with your pasta of choice for a tasty meal that is incredible enough to serve for company, but easy enough for any night of the week.

Penne alla vodka on a white plate with a gold fork.
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It’s been a while since I’ve posted any pasta recipes, but you know it’s always in our weekly rotation.

I’ve been making this version of penne alla vodka for years, adapting it along the way. Originally inspired by Ina Garten (aka The Barefoot Contessa) and her Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola recipe, it has changed a bit over time, so I knew the recipe was due for an update.

Let’s face it… though I dream of living a day in the life of Ina, we don’t all have that kind of time.

Sometimes I want an easy, filling pasta dish with a kick, and this sauce is it. I know you’ll enjoy it, too. If you want to tone the heat down a touch, just add a little mascarpone cheese for a creamier flavor.

Penne alla vodka in a cast iron skillet.

Why You’ll Love this Penne alla Vodka

  • Simple, but Special – This pasta recipe is so decadent and tastes restaurant-worthy, without the effort.
  • Feels Authentic– With a thick, creamy sauce that clings to every bite of pasta, you’ll imagine you’re vacationing in Italy.
  • Customize the Spice – Turn up the heat, or eliminate the spice entirely. The choice is yours!
Penne alla vodka on a white plate with a gold fork.

“I made this last night and it was incredible!!! Best vodka sauce I’ve EVER had!”

– Emily

Ingredients and Substitutions

  • Onions and garlic: The onion and garlic make the base of this pasta sauce. They should be as fresh as possible for the best flavor.
  • Vodka: You don’t need to use an expensive vodka in this recipe.
  • Canned San Marzano tomatoes: Chose a good quality brand for maximum flavor – San Marzano are by far and away the best.
  • Heavy whipping cream: Cream makes this sauce so silky, it’s best not to replace it with a low fat version.
  • Seasonings: Oregano, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper bring this sauce to life.
  • Pasta: Make your own or used your favorite boxed variety. Penne is the classic choice here.
Ingredients for penne alla vodka on a marble countertop
Penne alla Vodka ingredients, missing the tomatoes!

Variations

  • Add a little mascarpone cheese during the last minute of cooking the sauce for a creamy finish.
  • Add 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste (or a tomato paste substitute) for a richer tomato base.
  • Reduce the red pepper flakes to eliminate heat.
Close up of penne alla vodka sauce.

How To Make

  1. In a skillet over medium high and oil, onion and garlic and sauté until translucent. Add the red pepper and oregano and cook for an additional minute. Onions and garlic cooking on a stovetop. Onions and garlic cooking on a stovetop.
  2. Pour in the vodka and reduce to half. Add the crushed or chopped tomatoes to skillet. Add salt and fresh cracked pepper.
  3. Cover with a lid and allow to cook for 10 minutes on low heat.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare pasta al dente in a pot of boiling salty water. Be sure to reserve a cup of the starchy pasta water for thinning your sauce.
  5. Now, add the oregano, a little of the reserved water and heavy cream, simmering for another 10 minutes. Vodka sauce simmering in a gray pot on a stove. Vodka sauce simmering in a gray pot on a stove.
  6. Remove from heat. Stir in pasta and parmesan, adding one tablespoon of warm pasta water at a time until sauce reaches desired consistency. Penne alla vodka in a cast iron skillet.
Penne alla vodka in a cast iron skillet.

Tips

  • Be sure to use high quality ingredients and fresh spices for the best flavor.
  • One thing I do always have time for is homemade pasta. Make your own, or choose your favorite brand – it’s delicious either way!
  • Use good quality canned tomatoes – in this recipe, you can’t beat the unique flavor of San Marzano tomatoes.
  • It’s best to use heavy cream in this recipe, not low fat or milk.
  • Use freshly grated parmesan rather than pre-grated – it will be so much creamier, the extra step is worth it.
  • Always hold back a cup of warm, starchy pasta water. This can help thin your sauces!
Penne alla vodka on a white plate with a gold fork.

Make More (or Less!)

Scaling up, down or substituting? You’ll love this printable Measurement Conversion Chart!

Shortcuts

  • Use pre-shredded Parmesan.
  • Use pre-minced garlic.
Close up of penne alla vodka sauce.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does vodka sauce taste like?

Vodka sauce is a tomato based pasta sauce. It tastes peppery and also has herbal flavors.
The vodka helps to release the flavor from the tomatoes, resulting in a rich and creamy sauce. The additional bite of the vodka adds a little heat that balances out the sweetness of the cream and tomatoes.

How much alcohol remains after cooking vodka sauce?

In my vodka sauce recipe, there’s a cup of vodka which is equal to 8 ounces. Contrary to popular belief, the alcohol does not completely evaporate during cooking, although anywhere between 15 and 40 percent of it will cook off.
Each serving of this penne alla vodka will have an ounce or less of alcohol in it.

Can I make this penne all vodka without the vodka?

Yes, and it will still be a delicious pasta dinner! If you’re open to other spirits, try using red or white wine, or even gin. You can also simply substitute with chicken or vegetable stock instead.

Penne alla vodka on a white plate with a gold fork.

Serving Suggestions

Penne all vodka is a wonderful meal for any night of the week. Serve with any of the following suggestions to create a wholesome, balanced dinner.

Penne alla vodka on a white plate with a gold fork.

How to Store

  • Room Temperature – This penne alla vodka is best served as soon as it comes off the stove. It can rest at room temperature for up to two hours before it must be refrigerated.
  • Refrigerator – If you do have leftovers, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to three days. When you’re ready to eat, warm it in a small sauce pan and a use a little chicken broth or water to loosen the sauce.
  • Freezer – You can also freeze this pasta dish for up to three months.

Dietary Considerations

  • To make this pasta dish gluten free, choose your favorite gluten free pasta.
  • Nut Free
  • Vegetarian
Penne alla vodka in a cast iron skillet.

More Pasta

Penne alla vodka in a cast iron skillet.
5 from 2 votes

Vodka Sauce

This is the best penne alla vodka recipe you are ever going to make at home! It’s authentic and packed full of delicious, decadent flavor.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Total: 35 minutes
Servings: 8
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Ingredients  

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes crushed
  • 1 ½ teaspoon oregano dried
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 28 ounces Canned San Marzano Plum Tomatoes Peeled, chopped or crushed
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • pepper
  • 1 pound penne pasta or your favorite
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup parmesan fresh grated
  • 1 tablespoon mascarpone (optional)

Instructions 

  • In a skillet over medium high and oil, onion and garlic and sauté until translucent. Add the red pepper and oregano and cook for an additional minute.
  • Pour in the vodka and reduce to half. Add the crushed or chopped tomatoes to skillet. Add salt and fresh cracked pepper.
  • Cover with a lid and allow to cook for 10 minutes on low heat.
  • Meanwhile, prepare pasta al dente in a pot of boiling salty water. Be sure to reserve a cup of the starchy pasta water for thinning your sauce.
  • Now, add the oregano, a little of the reserved water and heavy cream, simmering for another 10 minutes.
  • Remove from heat. Stir in pasta and parmesan, adding one tablespoon of warm pasta water at a time until sauce reaches desired consistency.

Tips

  • Use good quality canned tomatoes – in this recipe, you can’t beat the unique flavor of San Marzano tomatoes.
  • It’s best to use heavy cream in this recipe, not low fat or milk.
  • Use freshly grated parmesan rather than pre-grated – it will be so much creamier, the extra step is worth it.
  • Always hold back a cup of warm, starchy pasta water. This can help thin your sauces!
Calories: 451kcal | Carbohydrates: 52g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 21mg | Sodium: 774mg | Potassium: 466mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 526IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 107mg | Iron: 2mg

Estimated nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is not guaranteed.

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