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Rich, tomatoey, and creamy with an extra kick, this Penne Alla Vodka is absolutely amazing! It’s naturally vegetarian (although super delicious with pan seared chicken, shrimp, or cooked Italian sausages) and so easy to make, ready in less than 30 minutes! If you have kids or don’t drink alcohol, no need to worry as the alcohol cooks out and leaves behind a mouthwatering flavor! This quick Penne Alla Vodka recipe is perfect for weeknight dinners!
Pasta dinners are one of our go-to staples as they’re always so easy to make and everybody loves them! As well as being nutritious, our Roasted Red Pepper Sauce is packed with flavor from home-roasted peppers, and our Bolognese Sauce Recipe is a traditional classic that is worth the extra effort.
Penne Alla Vodka Recipe
Vodka in a tomato pasta sauce. Who would’ve thought this combination would be so good?! The flavor of this Penne Alla Vodka recipe really amazes me. Not only is it rich and creamy, but it has this extra bite to it thanks to the vodka and crushed red pepper flakes.
But doesn’t that mean there’s alcohol in your food? I hear you! Cooking with alcohol like vodka in Penne alla Vodka, or using marsala wine in Chicken Marsala is absolutely fine by us as a non-alcoholic household, as the alcohol is cooked out when heated up. Plus, any leftover vodka can be used to top up our Homemade Vanilla Extract, which really means…baking more cookies! Win-win I think!
But back to this Penne alla Vodka recipe. It’s ready in just 25 minutes, and my whole family loves to dig into it. And it’s a great change from the same old marinara sauce. Nothing against marinara sauce, but vodka sauce is like it’s more exotic, creamier cousin and makes the meal feel special and different.
I used penne pasta as it is the classic pasta shape to use for Penne alla Vodka, but feel free to use any pasta you have on hand. The sauce makes for great leftovers throughout the week and can be frozen as well, so feel free to double batch it for later!
Ingredients for Penne alla Vodka
- Penne pasta: It’s all in the name, penne pasta is needed for Penne alla Vodka! I cooked the penne in salted water until al dente, according to package directions. Save some of the pasta water before draining it! You’ll need it for the vodka sauce!
- Butter and olive oil: Butter is added for flavor, however it can brown and burn quickly so I add olive oil as well which keeps the butter from burning.
- Sweet yellow onion and garlic: Lots of lovely onion and garlic flavor goes into this simple vodka pasta sauce.
- Tomatoes: I used both tomato paste and canned crushed tomatoes to achieve a rich, tomato flavor without hours of simmering!
- Crushed red pepper flakes: This is optional but super delicious! You can also add this at the end if some of your family aren’t into spicy food.
- Seasoning: Oregano, salt, and ground black pepper balance all of the flavors as well as adding an extra Italian herbiness.
- Vodka: Sounds like a bit of a strange ingredient to add to pasta sauce, but the flavor of Penne alla Vodka is great! And not to worry, the alcohol content cooks off, so it’s perfectly fine for people who don’t drink.
- Heavy cream: We’re just missing some richness so I added heavy cream. It also thins the sauce out perfectly so it can get in all of the penne pasta’s nooks and crannies.
- Garnishes: Just a couple of simple toppings to round off this Penne Alla Vodka recipe: freshly grated parmesan, and fresh basil, thinly sliced. These are entirely optional but so good!
How to Make Homemade Penne Alla Vodka
- Cook the pasta. Firstly, bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add about a tablespoon of salt. Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water before draining the pasta.
- Sauté onion and garlic. Meanwhile, make the vodka sauce by heating a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and butter and heat until the butter is melted, and then add the onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic in the last 30 seconds.
- Add vodka, paste, and seasonings. Next, add the vodka to the cooked onions and let it cook down until almost completely evaporated, about 30-60 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste, crushed red pepper flakes, oregano, salt, and pepper.
- Stir in tomatoes and simmer. Add the crushed tomatoes, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes to thicken slightly.
- Mix in the cream. Add the cream and stir until warmed through.
- Toss the pasta in the sauce. Add the drained pasta to the sauce, tossing to coat. Add a splash or two of the reserved pasta water, up to the full 1/2 cup to get the sauce just the consistency you like.
- Serve! Finally, serve the pasta sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan and thinly sliced basil.
Freezing and Storage Instructions
Store this Penne alla Vodka pasta in an airtight container for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. To reheat it, either heat it thoroughly in a pot on the stove, or heat it in an oven-safe dish in the oven, covered with foil for about 20 minutes at 360°F/180°C.
You can also freeze the vodka sauce before adding it to the pasta. When you want to use it, just thaw in a pot and warm, adding cooked pasta and tossing together before serving.
Is there alcohol in Penne Alla Vodka?
Yes, real Penne Alla Vodka does call for vodka. I’m not an alcohol expert by any means since we don’t actually drink it, but I do cook with it and the moderately priced stuff from Costco or the liquor aisle of our grocery store works just great.
As long as you don’t forget and add the vodka right at the end of the cooking process, the alcohol is cooked out with heat and it evaporates. This is a similar process to some of my recipes that use wine like Easy Creamy Chicken Marsala, Chicken Madeira, and my Best Bolognese Sauce Recipe.
What kind of vodka should I use?
Any vodka is absolutely fine to use! We tend to buy the cheaper, bottom-shelf stuff as we’re cooking with it and not drinking it. You can find it in many different sizes in the supermarket or liquor store, and if you just want to use it in this recipe, the smaller 35cl bottle will be perfect as we only need a 1/2 cup.
I have vodka leftover. What should I do with it?
We like to keep a bottle of vodka on the top shelf of our pantry to use again in dishes like this Penne Alla Vodka, but it’s also great to have on hand to refill my Homemade Vanilla Extract bottles. You can even use vodka in your pie crust! Alcohol is also excellent to use on cuts and wounds the need to be cleaned!
More Pasta Recipes Like This
- Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo
- Copycat Costco Mac and Cheese
- Chicken Spaghetti Casserole
- Classic Homemade Marinara Sauce
- Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs
- The Best Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells
- 12 ounces penne pasta, cooked in salted water until al dente according to package directions
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium sweet yellow onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional, but super delicious)
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup reserved pasta water
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan for serving
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced (optional, but so good!)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add about a tablespoon of salt. Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water before draining the pasta.
- Meanwhile, make the vodka sauce by heating a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and butter and heat until the butter is melted. Add the onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic in the last 30 seconds.
- Add the vodka to the cooked onions and let it cook down until almost completely evaporated, about 30-60 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste, crushed red pepper flakes, oregano, salt, and pepper.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes to thicken slightly.
- Add the cream and stir until warmed through.
- Add the drained pasta to the sauce, tossing to coat. Add a splash or two of the reserved pasta water, up to the full 1/2 cup to get the sauce just the consistency you like.
- Serve the pasta sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan and thinly sliced basil.
- The sauce will keep well in the fridge for 5 days, and can be frozen for longer, then reheated and added to pasta.
- Excellent with grilled or pan-seared chicken, Italian sausage, shrimp, or scallops.
- You could add 2 cups of sliced mushrooms once the onions have softened and cook for another 3-4 minutes before continuing with the sauce if you would like some extra veggies.