This penne alla vodka is tender penne pasta tossed in a rich and delicious tomato, vodka and cream sauce. Add a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and you’ll have a restaurant quality meal in the comfort of your own home.

I always order penne alla vodka at my local Italian restaurant. That creamy and flavorful sauce just can’t be beat! Luckily it’s super easy to make pasta alla vodka – in 30 minutes you’ll have an amazing dinner on the table. Try this dish with some Italian meatballs, grilled chicken tenders or grilled shrimp skewers for added protein.

A bowl of penne alla vodka pasta topped with parmesan cheese, parsley and red pepper flakes.

Penne alla vodka is one of those simple recipes that has minimal ingredients but is just so delicious and satisfying. My homemade version tastes just like the dish I get at our local Italian restaurant. The key to amazing pasta alla vodka is to get the best quality ingredients that you can afford. This is a dinner time staple at my house along with other kid friendly classics such as chicken broccoli Alfredo.

Penne Alla Vodka Ingredients

To make this recipe, you will need penne pasta, butter, garlic, red pepper flakes, tomatoes, vodka, heavy cream, parmesan cheese, salt, black pepper and parsley.

How Do You Make Penne Alla Vodka?

The first step is to put your pasta up to boil in a large pot, and while the pasta is cooking it’s time to make the sauce. The vodka sauce starts with sautéed garlic, butter and tomato puree. Place those ingredients in a pan, then add in the vodka. Let the mixture simmer for about 10 minutes, then stir in heavy cream, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Toss the cooked al dente pasta with the sauce. Garnish with more parmesan cheese, red chili flakes and parsley, then serve and enjoy.

Tomato puree, butter and garlic in a skillet.

Tips For The Perfect Dish

  • Make sure you let the sauce simmer for long enough so that the alcohol will cook off. If you don’t cook the sauce for long enough, you may end up with a harsh aftertaste from the alcohol.
  • You can make this sauce a day before you plan to use it. Simply reheat it on the stove while your pasta cooks, then toss everything together and serve.
  • Leftovers will stay fresh in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days. You can reheat your pasta in the microwave, or on the stove over low heat.
  • Do not use the green can of parmesan cheese for this dish. Look for a high quality grated or shaved parmesan, or buy a block of it and grate it yourself.
  • The parsley adds a hint of fresh flavor and color to the dish. Fresh basil is also a great choice.

Quick Tip

I use canned San Marzano tomatoes in this recipe. They’re a type of Italian plum tomato and they have the best flavor of any type of canned tomato. If you can’t find a can of San Marzano tomatoes, use Italian style whole canned tomatoes instead. It’s definitely worth the extra money for the San Marzano variety.

Creamy tomato sauce with parmesan cheese in it.

Recipe FAQs

Does vodka sauce have vodka in it?

Yes, vodka sauce does in fact contain vodka which is how it gets its name! The vodka adds a unique flavor to this dish, but it simmers for long enough that the alcohol boils off so there’s no danger of getting intoxicated from eating pasta.

What type of sauce is penne good for?

The ridges on penne pasta help sauce to cling to it. Penne is best when paired with thick and hearty sauces such as vodka sauce, marinara sauce or a bolognese style sauce. Alfredo sauce is also a good choice.

FOLLLOW ME

Penne pasta in a creamy tomato vodka sauce.

Flavor Variations

This dish is great as-is, but you can add other ingredients for a heartier meal, or to customize the flavors to your tastes.

  • Protein: Feel free to add some garlic butter shrimp, ground beef, pancetta, Italian sausage, bacon, prosciutto or grilled chicken breast to this dish. For a vegetarian version, you can stir in a can of cannellini beans.
  • Vegetables: Amp up the flavor and nutrition with veggies such as onions cooked in a little olive oil, grilled zucchini, bell peppers, roasted mushrooms or grilled eggplant.
  • Pasta: No penne pasta on hand? This recipe will work with most types of short pasta including farfalle, rigatoni, fusilli and cavatappi.
  • Cheese: If you’re a cheese lover, try adding another type of Italian cheese to the mix such as fresh mozzarella balls, provolone or fontina.
A skillet of penne alla vodka topped with shredded parmesan cheese.

This vodka sauce is so good that sometimes I skip the penne altogether and use ravioli or tortellini instead. You could even use this sauce in a lasagna for a fun twist on an old classic.

A bowl of penne alla vodka with a fork in it.

When you’re in the mood for Italian food, definitely give this penne alla vodka a try. You’ll be surprised at how authentic (and delicious) it is!

More Great Pasta Recipes

Penne Alla Vodka video

Quick Tip

Please leave a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 rating in the recipe card below & a review in the comments section further down the page.

5 from 136 votes

Penne alla Vodka

AuthorSara Welch
A bowl of penne alla vodka pasta topped with parmesan cheese, parsley and red pepper flakes.
This penne alla vodka is tender penne pasta tossed in a rich and delicious tomato, vodka and cream sauce. Add a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and you’ll have a restaurant quality meal in the comfort of your own home.
Time
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Course Main
Cuisine Italian
Serves 6

Ingredients 

  • 16 ounces penne pasta
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes plus more for garnish if desired
  • 28 ounce can Italian style or San Marzano whole tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese plus more for serving
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Instructions 

  • Cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions.
  • While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce.
  • Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds.
  • Place the tomatoes in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Pour the tomato puree into the pan.
  • Add the vodka to the pan. Simmer the sauce for 10 minutes over medium low heat.
  • Stir in the heavy cream and parmesan cheese and simmer for another 5 minutes or until thickened. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss to coat. Sprinkle with parsley, parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes (optional), then serve.

Notes

  1. Make sure you let the sauce simmer for long enough so that the alcohol will cook off. If you don’t cook the sauce for long enough, you may end up with a harsh aftertaste from the alcohol.
  2. You can make this sauce a day before you plan to use it. Simply reheat it on the stove while your pasta cooks, then toss everything together and serve.
  3. Do not use the green can of shelf stable parmesan cheese in this recipe! Fresh cheese is best.

Nutrition

Calories: 521kcal | Carbohydrates: 63g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 75mg | Sodium: 433mg | Potassium: 462mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 965IU | Vitamin C: 12.9mg | Calcium: 223mg | Iron: 2.4mg

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Hiya!

    I’ve made this recipe multiple times, and it has great flavor! Although, there were a few instances whenever the sauce came out a bit watery. Are you supposed to drain the tomatoes before adding them to the blender, or is it just a matter of simmering the sauce long enough?

    The recipe is definitely a keeper otherwise. Thank you!

  2. 5 stars
    Perfection! Did this for guests recently .. One, a retired executive from a well known company, and both extensive world travelers. The first reaction was “O my god, this is it!” .. and the second was “Sublime… the best we’ve ever had!” This is now in the Master File. Thank you!!

  3. 5 stars
    This was absolutely delicious! It tasted just like it was ordered from a five star Italian restaurant. I swapped out the vodka for water and the heavy cream for a dairy free alternative due to a dairy allergy in the family & set aside their portion before I added in the Parmesan. My husband, a very picky eater, said it was one of the best homemade meals he’s ever had! This is going to be a new staple in our home. Thank you so much for this quick and easy recipe!

  4. 5 stars
    This is exactly how I wanted it to taste! I made some other vodka sauce recipe before and it was way too tart and weird. This was perfect even with substitutions (no Parmesan and replaced vodka with water). Thank you so much!

  5. 5 stars
    Just made this, Yummy. I did a bit different, I sauted the garlic till brown. Then added some fire roasted tomatoes, then all the other ingredients. Very, very good. Thank you !!! Will make again.

  6. 5 stars
    Very simple and OH SO FLAVORFUL!!!! I garnished with fresh basil leaves. I made sure to use highest quality ingredients, and it really matters. Thank you for the recipe!

  7. 5 stars
    I love vodka sauce, and there are no italian restaurants best me. I have made this dish several times now with some minor adjustments. First off I do not add any garlic or onion, I’m sensitive to them and used freshly grated black pepper instead of red. I also added some cooked bacon to the sauce as well as a bag of frozen peas. And I used way more parmesan cheese than the recipie called for but it comes out awesome every time. Makes plenty for my mom and I with lots of leftovers. Thank for sharing your recipe.

  8. 5 stars
    This is one of the best vodka sauces I have ever made! Do you have recommendation/substitution when you can’t blend the tomatoes? Thank you!

    1. I used crushed tomatoes without blending them at all. The sauce will have a slightly different texture but still delicious!

  9. 5 stars
    This recipe is outstanding! So simple and delicious! I added shrimp and served with seared asparagus, my husband loved the dish as did I.

  10. 5 stars
    My son made this tonight for us, his parents. I’ve never in my LIFE tasted such a delicious pasta sauce!
    He used Lactose Free milk in place of heavy cream because that’s what he owned. I am quite curious as to what point can this sauce be frozen or canned!?!?

  11. 5 stars
    This was wonderful. I cooked two hot Italian sausage links, put it in the mini chopper, and added it to the sauce. it was great. I have sauce left over & I don’t think that cream will freeze well, I’ll give it a try. My boyfriend loved it. Easy & quick. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Was recently reminded of this recipe that l learned in ltaly in the 80s and have been hunting for a reminder recipe since. Have read dozens and been shocked by some of the ingredients and how ridiculously complicated some methods were. Yours is excellent, not over complicated and the closest to what l remember. The only thing l would do differently is use oil rather than butter to saute, although my northern ltalian friends would have insisted that if l were using cream, l should use butter. Thanks for the reminder of a wonderful sauce.

  12. Does it matter what vodka brand I buy? Also if I wanted to add onions with the garlic how long should I cook it for? Thank you.