This Penne alla Vodka recipe is a favorite Italian pasta dish made with tender penne tossed in a fresh and creamy tomato-based sauce, enhanced by a splash of vodka and a hint of heat from crushed red pepper flakes.

We love homemade Italian pasta recipes, from classics like Spaghetti and Meatballs to Cajun Chicken Pasta and of course Lasagna. If your family is as pasta-obsessed as we are, check out the video to see how easy it is to make your own vodka sauce with penne at home!

A bowl of homemade penne alla vodka topped with grated parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.

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Creamy Penne alla Vodka Recipe

We’re sharing our secrets for making authentic, restaurant-worthy Penne alla Vodka right at home. This is an easy pasta recipe made with tender penne noodles tossed in a rich and creamy tomato-based sauce. The vodka sauce is one of the most flavorful pasta sauces you’ll try. Prepare to go back for second helpings!

We serve ours topped with plenty of parmesan and fresh herbs, with a side of Focaccia Bread for soaking up the extra sauce. Just wait until you try it.

Penne alla Vodka Video

Watch Natasha make the best homemade vodka sauce on the stovetop with just a few simple ingredients. Here’s why you’ll love this classic pasta dish:

  • Quick and Easy – Unlike a Bolognese Sauce, there’s no lengthy simmering required, and is done in less than 30 minutes.
  • Flavorful – The creamy tomato-based sauce is rich and full of flavor, enhanced by a hint of vodka and zingy red pepper flakes.
  • Family-Friendly – It’s easy to adapt this recipe to suit your family’s tastes. Leave out the chili flakes for a more kid-friendly dish, or go all in with easy add-ins (see below).

What Is Vodka Sauce?

Vodka sauce is a classic Italian-American pasta sauce made from a base of tomatoes, heavy cream, and – you guessed it – vodka. There are tons of recipes for vodka sauce out there, but we love the simplicity, texture, and depth of flavor of this one. 

Ours is made with fresh parmesan, herbs, and just the right amount of crushed pepper heat. And if you’re concerned about tasting vodka in your sauce, don’t worry. Most of the vodka cooks off but helps meld the cream and tomatoes together, and adds wonderful flavor to the end result.

Penne pasta is stirred into a pot of vodka sauce with a wooden spoon.

Ingredients

In true Italian style, the ingredients for Penne alla Vodka are simplicity at its finest. For this reason, quality key. Here is an overview of what you’ll need, with the full recipe details in the recipe card below.

  • Onion and Garlic – we used yellow onion sauteed with garlic to form the aromatic base for the pasta sauce.
  • Tomato Paste – I use double-concentrated tomato paste for even more tomato flavor.
  • Vodka – Creates a lovely aroma and also helps to emulsify the sauce.
  • Canned Tomatoes – use canned whole tomatoes (fire-roasted tomatoes would also work). For a smoother sauce, you can blitz the whole tomatoes in a food processor beforehand.
  • Red Pepper Flakes – For a hint of spicy kick. You can omit chili flakes for a mild vodka sauce or double it for a spicier sauce.
  • Salt – I use fine sea salt to season my sauce, as well as the water I use to boil the pasta. Generously salting the pasta water is key to flavorful pasta. Don’t skip it!
  • Heavy Cream – Adding cream brings subtle sweetness and extra creaminess to the pasta sauce and balances the acidity.
  • Parmesan Cheese – use freshly grated in your sauce and to garnish.
  • Penne Pasta – We love penne pasta but you can substitute it with another tube-shaped pasta or your favorite pasta.
The ingredients for homemade penne alla vodka.

Pro Tip: I’ve always found Italian canned tomatoes, like San Marzano, to have the best flavor. If you can’t find the kind that is actually produced in Italy, look for Italian-style whole tomatoes instead. Here’s a helpful resource for finding the best canned tomatoes.

How to Make Penne alla Vodka

Follow these steps for perfect vodka sauce pasta every time:

  1. Aromatics – First, sauté the onions in a large pot with olive oil, then stir in the garlic.
  2. Add Vodka – Add tomato paste and vodka and stir while the alcohol evaporates.
  3. Add Tomatoes – Add in your canned tomatoes, season with salt and red pepper flakes, then use a spatula to mash everything together and simmer.
  4. Cook the Pasta – Meanwhile, get a large pot of salted water to a boil (you want to add enough salt to taste like seawater). Cook the pasta al dente according to the directions on the package.
  5. Finish the Sauce – Stir heavy cream and grated parmesan into the vodka sauce. 
  6. Combine – Use a strainer to scoop the cooked penne directly from the pasta water to your vodka sauce and give it a toss to coat. Spoon in some reserved pasta water to get the sauce ultra-creamy and season to taste.
Photo collage showing the process for making homemade vodka sauce with penne.

Pro Tip: Stirring in a few spoonfuls of pasta water at the end will make your pasta sauce even saucier. The starches in the pasta water emulsify with the fats in the sauce, for added richness. This is an age-old Italian cooking trick that helps a sauce become creamy without actually adding extra cream.

Common Questions

Can I substitute half-and-half?

It’s best to use heavy whipping cream over half-and-half in this recipe, as the sauce is less likely to break.

Does the vodka cook out?

Most of the vodka will evaporate as it cooks. Be sure to let the sauce simmer for the full 15 minutes, to avoid any strong flavors overpowering the dish.

What kind of vodka should I use for pasta sauce?

We use Smirnoff 21 vodka which is 80-proof. This is the same vodka we use for making Vanilla Extract.

Can I substitute the pasta?

You can use any tube-shaped pasta. We love how the ridges on penne grab hold of the sauce, but you can use Rigatoni, ziti, or any similar-shaped pasta you’d like. That said, this sauce would also work with spaghetti or your favorite pasta.

Overhead view of cooked penne pasta in a glass bowl.

Variations

Looking to bulk up your penne pasta with extra ingredients? Below are some of our favorite add-ins for Penne alla Vodka:

  • Vegetables – Stir in cooked veggies like broccoli, zucchini, asparagus, red bell peppers, or mushrooms.
  • Protein – Slice up Oven Baked Chicken Breasts, Juicy Meatballs, or crispy pancetta.
  • Seafood – Add shrimp, scallops, or a mix of seafood.
  • Cheese – For an even cheesier dish, grate over fresh mozzarella, or fontina cheese.

What to Serve With Penne alla Vodka

We love serving penne alla vodka for pasta night alongside easy Italian-inspired sides. Our favorites are a fresh Caesar Salad or Caprese Salad, plus Focaccia Bread for soaking up the leftover sauce. Try these other tasty serving suggestions:

Make-Ahead

Penne alla vodka is great for keeping leftovers. Here are some basic storage instructions:

  • To Refrigerate: Store any leftover penne and sauce airtight in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. 
  • Freezing: The sauce by itself is freezer friendly. Store the cooled vodka sauce airtight in a freezer-safe container, and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost the sauce in the fridge overnight before reheating it while you boil the pasta.
  • To Reheat: Warm up leftover pasta in the microwave with a little water added to help loosen up the noodles. You can also reheat the pasta in a saucepan on the stovetop until heated through.
Close up of a bowl of penne alla vodka garnished with a sprinkle of fresh herbs.

We just know the warm flavors of this Penne alla Vodka recipe will transport you to your favorite Italian restaurant whenever a craving strikes. If you like to get adventurous with your pasta, this may become a new favorite for you.

More Easy Pasta Recipes

Natasha's Kitchen Cookbook

Penne alla Vodka Recipe

4.99 from 103 votes
Author: Natasha Kravchuk
A bowl of homemade penne alla vodka topped with grated parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.
Our homemade Penne alla Vodka is a family-favorite pasta night dish. This Italian-style recipe is made with tender penne tossed in a creamy tomato-based sauce, enhanced by a splash of vodka and crushed red pepper flakes.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients 

Servings: 4 servings

Instructions

  • In a coated dutch oven or non-reactive pot over medium heat, add olive oil and onions and saute until softened, 5-6 minutes stirring occasionally. Add garlic and saute for another 30 seconds until fragrant.
  • Add tomato paste and Vodka and stir for 2 minutes until most of the vodka has evaporated out.
  • Add tomatoes, salt, and red pepper flakes. Mash up the tomatoes with your spatula and simmer the sauce partially covered over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, start cooking the pasta so it’s ready at the same time as your sauce.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil for pasta. Season pasta water generously with salt (it should have enough salt to taste like ocean water). Once the water has boiled, add pasta and stir several times to keep the pasta from sticking. Cook until al dente according to pasta instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water.
  • Stir whipping cream into the sauce then add shredded cheese and return to a simmer.
  • Add cooked pasta directly from the cooking water, adding a couple of Tbsp of pasta water at a time to make it saucier. Season with salt then serve garnished with more cheese if desired, parsley, or basil.

Nutrition Per Serving

786kcal Calories95g Carbs22g Protein32g Fat14g Saturated Fat3g Polyunsaturated Fat13g Monounsaturated Fat59mg Cholesterol750mg Sodium650mg Potassium5g Fiber9g Sugar1090IU Vitamin A14mg Vitamin C246mg Calcium3mg Iron
Nutrition Facts
Penne alla Vodka Recipe
Amount per Serving
Calories
786
% Daily Value*
Fat
 
32
g
49
%
Saturated Fat
 
14
g
88
%
Polyunsaturated Fat
 
3
g
Monounsaturated Fat
 
13
g
Cholesterol
 
59
mg
20
%
Sodium
 
750
mg
33
%
Potassium
 
650
mg
19
%
Carbohydrates
 
95
g
32
%
Fiber
 
5
g
21
%
Sugar
 
9
g
10
%
Protein
 
22
g
44
%
Vitamin A
 
1090
IU
22
%
Vitamin C
 
14
mg
17
%
Calcium
 
246
mg
25
%
Iron
 
3
mg
17
%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Course: Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine: American, Italian
Keyword: pasta alla vodka, penne alla vodka recipe, vodka sauce recipe
Skill Level: Easy
Calories: 786

Natasha Kravchuk

Welcome to my kitchen! I am Natasha, the blogger behind Natasha's Kitchen (since 2009). My husband and I run this blog together and share only our best, family approved and tested recipes with YOU. Thanks for stopping by! We are so happy you're here.

Read more posts by Natasha

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Recipe Rating




Comments

  • Carol
    February 15, 2024

    Perfect dinner for my valentine! Simple and delicious, creamy and a tiny bit of spiciness from the red pepper flakes. I know I’ll fix this again!

    Reply

    • Natashas Kitchen
      February 15, 2024

      I love that you made this for Valentines dinner, it really is the perfect meal for that. I’m so glad you loved it!

      Reply

  • Tricia Celenza
    January 28, 2024

    Made this yesterday as written and it was wonderful! Your recipes never disappoint!

    Reply

    • Natasha's Kitchen
      January 28, 2024

      Thank you so much! Great to hear that it was a success.

      Reply

  • Cynthia Cauble
    January 17, 2024

    Made this tonight, exactly as written.. my son said it was the best thing I ever made!!! So easy and quick! Might make it with prosciutto and peas next time, was absolutely delicious!! Thank you!!!

    Reply

    • Natasha's Kitchen
      January 17, 2024

      Sounds like a planb, I’m sure you’ll love that addition too! Thank you for this review, Cynthia.

      Reply

  • Natalie Mazur
    December 19, 2023

    Subbed in coconut whipping cream and worked great ! Delicious !

    Reply

    • Natasha's Kitchen
      December 20, 2023

      Nice to know that, Natalie. Thanks a lot for sharing!

      Reply

  • Amy
    December 9, 2023

    Can I use tomato sauce in place of whole tomatoes. Boys don’t like any tomato chunks. Thanks!

    Reply

    • NatashasKitchen.com
      December 10, 2023

      Hi Amy! For a smoother sauce, you can blitz the whole tomatoes in a food processor beforehand.

      Reply

  • Michael Tucker
    December 7, 2023

    I made this tonight, and WOW! I’ve never been more impressed. I did cook some diced pancetta and sprinkled it on top over the pasta though. 🤤 Thank YOU so much for this recipe, Natasha. It was incredibly flavorful.

    Your penne alla vodka recipe beats every other one out there!! Thank you. 🙏🏼

    Reply

    • NatashasKitchen.com
      December 7, 2023

      Thank you, Michael! I’m glad you love it.

      Reply

  • Rick Beeso
    November 16, 2023

    I love this recipe but wanted to make it again! Can you use regular tomato paste in place of the concentrated?

    Reply

    • Natashas Kitchen
      November 16, 2023

      Hi Rick, regular tomato paste will work great. I used double-concentrated tomato paste for even more tomato flavor.

      Reply

  • Terry Dunham
    August 9, 2023

    Penne with vodka sauce was so delicious! I added some grilled chicken and it was amazing!

    Reply

    • NatashasKitchen.com
      August 9, 2023

      I’m glad you loved it, Terry! Thank you for sharing.

      Reply

  • Jen
    August 1, 2023

    So I kicked this up a notch. I took thick cut bacon, 3 pieces and rendered some fat. As soon as it started to crisp I added the onions and cooked to almost translucent. Then I added 1/4 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes. Then followed the recipe. Not a plate left unfinished!!!

    Reply

    • NatashasKitchen.com
      August 1, 2023

      That sounds wonderful, Jen! Thank you for sharing that with us.

      Reply

  • Chrissy
    July 14, 2023

    Delicious! My first time giving vodka sauce a try and it was perfect. Family LOVED it. Thank you again Natasha for a fabulous recipe.

    Reply

    • NatashasKitchen.com
      July 14, 2023

      That’s wonderful to hear! Thank you for the feedback!

      Reply

  • Julia
    July 11, 2023

    Hi Natasha, I tried this recipe and my family loved it. I’m just curious though, is there a particular reason you use whole tomatoes instead of crushed? does it make any difference?

    Reply

    • NatashasKitchen.com
      July 11, 2023

      Hi Julia! I’m glad the recipe is being enjoyed! Crushed tomatoes have a thicker consistency than whole tomatoes. You can use either, but may need to tweak the recipe a bit to reach the desired consistency in the sauce.

      Reply

      • Julia
        July 13, 2023

        thanks! also I totally meant to rate it 5 stars but just noticed I only gave 4 accidentally haha the recipe was amazing

        Reply

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