Penne alla Vodka

Tested & Perfected Recipes Cookbook Recipe

Penne alla vodka, or penne with a bright tomato sauce enriched with heavy cream, makes a quick, family-friendly dinner.

Photo by Johnny Miller (Clarkson Potter, 2021)

From my cookbook Weeknight/Weekend, this penne alla vodka, or penne with vodka sauce, is one of those no-food-in-the-house dinners that I make over and over again. Aside from the fresh basil – and even that grows abundantly on my patio during the summer – every ingredient for this dish is always on hand in my kitchen. The vodka sauce, a bright tomato sauce enriched with heavy cream, comes together in the time it takes to boil the pasta. You won’t really taste the vodka; it’s simply there to cut the richness of the dish without adding a distinct flavor of its own. (Some people believe the dish was created by vodka manufacturers to sell more vodka!)

What You’ll Need To Make Penne Alla Vodka

penne alla vodka ingredients

Step-by-Step Instructions

Before getting starting, crush the tomatoes. You can either use kitchen shears to cut them directly in the can or pour the entire contents of the can into a resealable freezer bag, press out any excess air, seal tightly, and then squish by hand. (Diced canned tomatoes are treated with a chemical that prevents them from breaking down when cooking, so when I want a smooth tomato sauce, I prefer to use canned whole tomatoes and chop them myself.)

crushing the tomatoes for penne alla vodka

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Heat the butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat until shimmering.

melting butterAdd the onion.

cooking the onion

Cook, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes.
softened onionsAdd the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds more. Do not brown.

adding garlic and red pepper flakes

Add the tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, salt, sugar, and vodka.

adding tomatoes, tomato paste, vodka, and seasoningBring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook at a lively simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
simmering vodka sauceWhile the sauce simmers, boil the pasta according to the package instructions until just shy of al dente.

boiling pasta

Before draining, ladle out about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and set it aside. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot.
penne in potStir the cream into the sauce.

stirring cream into the vodka sauce

Simmer, uncovered, for about 3 minutes more. Using an immersion blender, purée the sauce until mostly smooth, leaving some small chunks. (Alternatively, ladle some of the sauce into a blender and purée until smooth. Be sure to remove the center knob on the blender and cover with a dish towel to avoid splatters, then add back to the pan.)
blending the vodka sauce with an immersion blenderPour the sauce over the penne. It may seem a little soupy; that’s okay. Bring the sauce and pasta to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently; cook until the sauce is reduced and thickened enough to cling to the pasta, a few minutes. Add a little of the reserved pasta water if the pasta seems dry.

simmering penne alla vodka

When combining a sauce with cooked pasta, always cook them together in the pot for a minute or two before serving. This marries the flavors and helps the sauce cling to the pasta.

Stir in the basil, then taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

adding basil to penne alla vodka

Spoon the pasta into serving bowls and pass the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table.

Photo by Johnny Miller (Clarkson Potter, 2021)

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Penne alla Vodka

Penne alla vodka, or penne with a bright tomato sauce enriched with heavy cream, makes a quick, family-friendly dinner.

Servings: 4 to 6
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes
Total Time: 45 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion (from 1 small yellow onion)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-ounce can whole peeled plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices (see Pro Tip below)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup vodka
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chopped basil, plus more for serving
  • Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. 
  2. Heat the butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds more. Do not brown. Add the tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, salt, sugar, and vodka; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook at a lively simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
  3. While the sauce simmers, boil the pasta according to the package instructions until just shy of al dente (it will cook for a few minutes more in the sauce). Before draining, ladle out about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and set it aside. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot.
  4. Stir the cream into the sauce and simmer, uncovered, about 3 minutes more. Using an immersion blender, purée the sauce until mostly smooth, leaving some small chunks. (Alternatively, ladle some of the sauce into a blender and purée until smooth. Be sure to remove the center knob on the blender and cover with a dish towel to avoid splatters, then add back to the pan.)
  5. Pour the sauce over the penne. It may seem a little soupy; that’s okay. Bring the sauce and pasta to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently; cook until the sauce is reduced and thickened enough to cling to the pasta, a few minutes. Add a little of the reserved pasta water if the pasta seems dry. Stir in the basil, then taste and adjust seasoning with if necessary. Spoon the pasta into serving bowls and pass the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table.
  6. Pro Tip: Diced canned tomatoes are treated with a chemical that prevents them from breaking down when cooking, so when I want a smooth tomato sauce, I prefer to use canned whole tomatoes and chop them myself. You can crush them by hand individually as you add them to the pan, but they splatter like crazy when squeezed, so it’s best to either use kitchen shears to cut them directly in the can or pour the entire contents of the can into a resealable freezer bag, press out any excess air, seal tightly, and then squish by hand.
  7. Note: The nutritional information doesn't include the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (6 servings)
  • Calories: 491
  • Fat: 17 g
  • Saturated fat: 10 g
  • Carbohydrates: 66 g
  • Sugar: 8 g
  • Fiber: 5 g
  • Protein: 12 g
  • Sodium: 453 mg
  • Cholesterol: 51 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Reviews & Comments

  • So good!! My kids and husband all loved this dish and asked that I put it in the rotation. Thanks for the recipe!!

    • — Stephanie on October 13, 2021
    • Reply
  • Jenn, I’m making this for a large pasta party (25) and will likely triple the recipe/make three batches. Can you offer any suggestions for making this ahead of time (day before or morning of)? Thanks.

    • — Donna on October 10, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Donna, you could make both the pasta and sauce ahead and store them separately in the fridge. When you’re ready to serve, reheat the sauce and refresh the pasta either by very quickly putting it in hot water or putting it in a colander and running hot water over it. Hope that helps and that everyone enjoys!

      • — Jenn on October 11, 2021
      • Reply
  • So delicious and so easy! Tonight was the third time I’ve made it and this time I used tomatoes from the garden that I canned over the summer. It tasted so fresh!

    Thanks for another great recipe!

    • — Rob on October 6, 2021
    • Reply
  • Omg Jenn, this sauce was so delicious. This was a very easy recipe to make. I added meatballs to the pot, and will definitely make this again. I have saved it in my favorites.

    • — Diane PUDDESTER on October 6, 2021
    • Reply
  • So simple and delicious! Perfect for a quick weeknight meal.

    • — Brenda on October 4, 2021
    • Reply
  • I’ve never made a Jenn Segal recipe that I didn’t like and this one was no exception! Loved the simplicity of the recipe and because my husband is dairy-free, I used coconut cream as a substitute, which worked out fine! It did seem to taste a little sweeter, so I might not use as much sugar next time, but a good alternative for those who can’t have dairy!

    • — Carissa L on September 30, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is delicious and so quick and easy to make. Since I have celiac, I opted for rice penne and it was perfect.

    • — Michele on September 25, 2021
    • Reply
    • Can you freeze this sauce? Thanks!

      • — Nora on September 27, 2021
      • Reply
      • Hi Nora, because of the cream it contains, I wouldn’t recommend freezing it. Sorry!

        • — Jenn on September 28, 2021
        • Reply
  • Okay, this replaces my old standby recipe for vodka sauce. The Lidia Bastianich recipe is wonderful, but this one is easier to make, healthier, yet just as (or dare I say more) delicious. Lidia’s recipe doesn’t reheat well the next day. I am crossing my fingers that the leftovers from tonight’s dinner will be just as creamy tomorrow.

    • — JL on September 24, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi JL, So glad you enjoyed it! When you reheat, you may need to add a touch of cream or water to thin it out.

      • — Jenn on September 24, 2021
      • Reply
  • Fabulous!!! We have been searching for a tomato, cream, vodka sauce recipe similar to one my husband used to love from a restaurant in Phoenix and we finally found it! Thank you!

    My only question is how do you heat up the leftovers? My sauce is pretty gloppy and clumpy now. Is there any way to re-constitute it?

    Thanks,

    • — Karen on September 23, 2021
    • Reply
    • Glad you liked it! It should help to add a touch of cream or water to thin it out while you’re reheating it.

      • — Jenn on September 24, 2021
      • Reply
      • Thanks, I added water gradually, heated it on med-low and it came out well.

        • — Karen on September 24, 2021
        • Reply
  • What can I say. Jenn nailed it again. I have to confess I used a can of crushed tomatoes instead and didn’t have to emulsify it. Only cause that was what I had on hand. I did have to use the full cup of pasta water. Will make this over and over

    • — Ann on September 23, 2021
    • Reply
  • My family’s favorite meal–if I ask ‘what do you want for dinner?’, this is the answer! I have been making this (at minimum) every two weeks for the last year. I participated in the test group for the new cookbook, and this was in my recipe set. I make it exactly as written and it comes out perfect every time. Our college-aged son learned to make it this summer, too. Since all of the items are in my pantry (and we grow basil), I have thrown this together with bread and a salad for company, too. Can’t express how much we love the website, cookbooks, and recipes–I hardly cook anything that isn’t from OUaC–it’s just not the same. Thanks, Jenn!

    • — Jill ST on September 22, 2021
    • Reply
  • First recipe I have tried from the new cookbook. Fabulous! I will be trying a second recipe from the cookbook tonight. Question: How do you mince garlic? Do you have a tool or do you simply use a knife? Thanks.

    • — Philip Cottell on September 22, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Philip, Glad you enjoyed it! I use a garlic press – makes it easy – but you can definitely use a knife too…just takes a bit more time.

      • — Jenn on September 22, 2021
      • Reply
  • I made this tonight and it’s delicious! Seasoning is perfect and the results are great! I love it – it’s the only Penne with Vodka Sauce recipe that I’ll make now.

    • — Sandra H. on September 18, 2021
    • Reply
  • Question: Is there a substitute for the vodka that would work? I’ve read that it takes 3 hours of cooking to truly erase all traces of the alcohol and I would need this dish to be truly alcohol free. When your recipes call for wine I use already dealcoholized wine which works really well, but I can’t seem to find a dealcoholized vodka. Thanks!

    • — Hilary on September 18, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Hilary, You can replace the vodka with an equal amount of low-sodium chicken broth. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on September 20, 2021
      • Reply
  • I’m so looking forward to making this. What type of immersion blender do you use?

    • — Liz on September 18, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Liz, I have a Cuisinart Smart Stick. Hope you enjoy the pasta!

      • — Jenn on September 20, 2021
      • Reply
  • I made this last night for dinner and it was fantastic! Can’t wait to check out the new cookbook!

    • — Jennifer on September 17, 2021
    • Reply
  • Made this tonight to go with summer awesome bone in pork chops. The recipe is so simple, so easy to do, and so delicious that I’ll never buy a jar of vodka sauce again! Followed it to the letter but made it gluten free by using gf pasta and gf vodka… Yes, vodka can contain gluten. Tito’s is our favorite.

    • — David Rubin on September 16, 2021
    • Reply
  • Made this tonight, what a great recipe ! A home run, added to my favourites !

    • — Patti on September 16, 2021
    • Reply
  • Amazing!! I wouldn’t even bother to order this now that I have your recipe, Jenn. I pre grilled chicken breasts and sliced half of one to go on top. (Absolutely doesn’t need anything, but I wanted some protein tonight.). Congrats on your new book! I thought I had pre-ordered (I’ve been looking, looking for my copy to arrive;) but, checking my on-line order history, I see that I did not! I am remedying this straight away! Congratulations, again.

    • — Nicole on September 16, 2021
    • Reply
  • This looks amazing and I’ll have to check out the new cookbook! What brand and size is the pot you have the penne in? Thanks!

    • — Janie on September 16, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Janie, It is a 5-qt Anolon stainless steel pot. I use it a lot for pasta.

      • — Jenn on September 16, 2021
      • Reply
  • I am so glad that this is one of the recipes that was included in your new book! It is one of the group of recipes that I had the absolute privilege to test, and it is fabulous!
    I’ve sometimes chosen to add sliced, grilled Italian sausage to this dish. My Amazon cookbook order is on its way, and I can’t wait to see which of my group’s tested recipes appear in print! Thanks again, Jenn!

    • — Sandra on September 16, 2021
    • Reply
  • I was so fortunate to test this recipe for the new cookbook. My whole family loves this and I make it a couple times a month!
    It is so easy to make and I too always have these ingredients on hand in my kitchen.
    Love it as a main dish but sometimes I like to serve it as a side dish to breaded chicken breasts and an Italian salad.
    Can’t wait to receive the new cookbook. Just got an email it’ll be arriving tomorrow!
    Thanks Jen for another great recipe!

    • — Lisa on September 16, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn. I’ve had this in a restaurant and it’s wonderful. Looking froward to making it. One question. Will a can of crushed tomatoes work, or do I need to crush a fresh one? Love your recipes and we have your first cookbook.

    • — Mike on September 16, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Mike, I don’t recommend it — crushed tomatoes are actually a mixture of diced tomatoes and tomato puree or paste, so the result will be different. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on September 16, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi! Just received the new cookbook on Tuesday & it is so beautiful. I’m planning to make this tonight:) Do you think I could use equal parts half and half and cream to reduce the calories just a bit?

    • — Kimberly on September 16, 2021
    • Reply
    • Yep 🙂 Hope you enjoy, and so glad you like the book!

      • — Jenn on September 16, 2021
      • Reply
  • I was fortunate to test this recipe for the new cookbook and my whole family absolutely loves it! I make this very often and it’s so easy to put together with ingredients you have on hand. A super yummy pasta that can be a main dish or I like to serve it with breaded chicken breasts and a salad too.
    Can’t wait to receive my cookbook. Just got an email it’s being delivered tomorrow!!
    Thanks Jen for another great dish! ❤️

    • — Lisa on September 16, 2021
    • Reply
  • Looks delicious and simple! Why not use a can of crushed tomatoes instead of whole to simplify even more? I see the reason not to use diced.

    • — Brett on September 16, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Brett, crushed tomatoes are actually a mixture of diced tomatoes and tomato puree or paste, so the texture will be different. Hope that clarifies!

      • — Jenn on September 16, 2021
      • Reply

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