This simple penne alla vodka recipe is comprised of penne pasta served in a homemade creamy vodka sauce. The recipe is ultra-rich, creamy, and delicious with subtle peppery notes from the vodka. Pasta in vodka sauce is a really easy ‘from scratch‘ sauce to make with your most basic ingredients. Plus it’s on the table in about 25 minutes or less.
How to Make Vodka Sauce
Tomato paste, pasta water, heavy cream, parmesan cheese, shallot, lots of garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, and a splash of vodka are simmered together to deliver a silky smooth and creamy sauce that tastes like nothing else on the planet. The tomato paste offers a uniquely deep and earthy tomato flavor that almost reminds me of sundried tomatoes.
My recipe uses your standard tomato paste as the base of the vodka sauce. Some recipes call for canned chopped tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, or even marina, however, I think tomato paste is the best option. Tomato paste is made by simmering tomatoes until most of the water is cooked off, yielding a thick and rich paste.
The water and cream will essentially rehydrate the tomato paste into a really smooth and creamy sauce. I prefer this method over tomato sauce because it’s much smoother and doesn’t have any chunks in it. It helps create an ultra-smooth and creamy texture.
Can I Taste the Vodka?
Yes and no. Vodka should be used sparingly! 2-3 tablespoons are really all you need. It adds a very subtle peppery flavor and really boosts the flavors in the dish. Most, if not all alcohol cooks off during simmering, leaving behind an unmatchable taste I always find myself craving. If your sauce tastes like rubbing alcohol, you’ve added way too much.
Onions or Shallots?
Most penne alla vodka or vodka pasta recipes call for either onions or shallots. I’m a huge lover of shallots so that’s what I go with. Shallots are very strong and fragrant and add more flavor than your typical onion. If you don’t like shallots or prefer onion, I would use a whole small onion or half a medium-sized onion instead.
More Pasta Recipes
- Simple creamy gnocchi
- Creamy shells with sausage
- Ultimate baked ziti
- Chicken broccoli ziti
- Strozzapreti with creamy pasta and clams
Pasta in vodka sauce is a really easy ‘from scratch’ sauce to make with your most basic ingredients. Plus it’s on the table in about 25 minutes or less.
- 1 pound penne, rigatoni, or ziti
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup tomato paste (about 4.5 ounces)
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons vodka
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 3–4 chopped fresh basil leaves, for garnish
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta al dente. Reserve 2 cups of pasta water before draining and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter with olive oil. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes or until very tender. Do not burn!
- Add tomato paste, red pepper flakes, and vodka. Stir until the paste fully coats the shallots and garlic. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add 1 cup of pasta water. Stir until smooth. Bring sauce to a simmer, add cream, and turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Fold in the pasta until fully coated in the sauce. Add parmesan cheese and continue to toss/mix.
- Add additional reserved pasta water as needed (a little at a time) if the sauce is too thick. I like a creamy sauce that is just thick enough to really coat the pasta without being too runny. I usually just do 1 cup total.
- Serve garnished with more Parmesan and chopped fresh basil.
You can skip the vodka altogether if you don’t have any or don’t want to add it. I would NOT substitute for any other spirit in its place.
- Serving Size: 1/4
- Calories: 624
- Sugar: 4.1g
- Sodium: 430mg
- Fat: 26.7g
- Saturated Fat: 12g
- Carbohydrates: 72.9g
- Fiber: 1.5g
- Protein: 19.2g
- Cholesterol: 136mg
Keywords: vodka sauce pasta, pasta alla vodka, vodka pasta, penne vodka pasta