Penne alla Vodka is a perfect pasta dinner that’s comforting, simple, and takes only 30 minutes to make! When I make Vodka Sauce specifically for this pasta recipe, I like to start the sauce with some pancetta or prosciutto, use a little extra cream and parmesan cheese, and a extra fresh basil. We love to make it all year long, especially in the winter for comfort and in the summer with all the fresh basil.
Penne alla Vodka
My family loves this pasta dish so much, they even say that it’s better than my classic Spaghetti Sauce! Although, it seems to be a tie with my famous Bolognese Sauce. Fortunately for them, I’m a pasta fanatic, so they get all of their favorites quite frequently.
What makes this vodka sauce so divine is all of the ingredients that blend together to create it, of course. Bold ingredients like vodka, crushed red pepper flakes, garlic, herbs, and pancetta (or prosciutto) come together to make a sauce that’s anything but bland! My favorite part of making this easy pasta sauce is at the end, when I stir in heavy whipping cream to make it creamy and delectable.
This is the kind of sauce that you’ll want to enjoy every last drop of, so be sure to make plenty of penne to accompany it! And if there’s vodka sauce left on the dish after all the noodles are gone, be sure to soak it up with something like Homemade Parmesan Garlic & Herb Breadsticks.
Ingredients for Penne alla Vodka
- Pasta – Both penne and rigatoni noodles are equally delicious when tossed in this sauce.
- Olive Oil – Rich, dark extra virgin olive oil is preferred.
- Pancetta or Prosciutto – This is the ingredient that separates this recipe from other vodka sauces. It adds a rich, savory flavor with a great touch of saltiness.
- Shallots – The gentle onion flavor provided by shallots is perfect for this sauce!
- Garlic – For best results, use fresh garlic, not the pre-minced jarred garlic from the grocery store.
- San Marzano Tomatoes – These crushed tomatoes will serve as the robust base of the sauce. Although they’re canned, they’re still incredibly flavorful!
- Tomato Paste – This paste thickens the consistency of the sauce while also providing a rich tomato flavor.
- Vodka – Use a good quality vodka for this sauce. Cheaper vodka tends to have a strong and unpleasant taste that will translate into the sauce.
- Red Pepper Flakes – This determines the spiciness of the sauce. If you want no spice whatsoever, omit this ingredient. Like it hot? Toss some more in the mix.
- Salt – The pancetta already provides a touch of saltiness to this recipe, so be cautious of how much more salt you add.
- Dried Oregano
- Heavy Whipping Cream – My favorite ingredient of them all! This is what makes the final product so irresistibly creamy and rich.
- Parmesan – Keep in mind that parmesan melts best when it’s freshly grated and shaved off the block.
- Basil – Another favorite ingredient! Try to use fresh basil for best results!
What pasta should I use?
As the name suggests, you want to use penne, but rigatoni is also a very popular choice for this recipe. Rigatoni looks like a larger and thicker penne pasta that is straight and tube-shaped. Personally, I love how it catches the sauce inside and out because of the ridged surface.
How to Make Penne alla Vodka
Start by caramelizing the pancetta (or prosciutto). Then, add the shallots and caramelize them as well in the same pot. Once it’s sautéed, add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant.
Cook the pasta while you’re making the sauce, strain it, and set aside.
Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, making sure to stir well. Then, stir in the vodka and bring the mixture to a low boil. Simmer for 5-7 minutes with the lid on, leaving a small crack for steam to escape.
Stir in the heavy cream and parmesan cheese, along with the seasoning. Stir everything together until the cheese is fully melted.
Lower the heat, then add the cooked pasta, stirring them until they’re fully coated.
Add the fresh basil to the sauce. If desired, add a little extra parmesan cheese, too! It’s a fresh, delicious garnish.
Tips For The Best Pasta Sauce:
- For the best tasting sauce, use fresh ingredients like fresh garlic, fresh basil, and grate or shave Parmesan cheese off the block.
- To save time, cook the sauce and pasta and the same time. You can leave the sauce chunky or blend it in a food processor to be smooth. You can also blend just the crushed tomatoes before adding them to the sauce.
- Taste as you go! This way you will know if you need more salt or more heat from red pepper flakes.
- You can prepare the sauce ahead of time and mix when pasta the next day. Store cooked sauce in the refrigerator, in an air-tight container.
Store leftovers in an airtight container, in the refrigerator, for 3-4 days. Reheat it in a microwave-safe dish just until it’s hot. You’ll want to cover the dish with a microwave lid of another bowl turned upside down, because tomato sauces tends to splatter. No one likes a dirty microwave!
Can I freeze it?
You can freeze the sauce, but I highly recommend freezing it before adding the heavy cream and parmesan cheese. Prepare the sauce up to the step of adding cream and cheese, cool the sauce to room temperature, and transfer it into a large zip-top freezer bag. Label and freeze for up to 2 months.
To thaw the sauce, simply pull the bag out of the freezer and let it slow-thaw in the refrigerator for a day. Then, reheat the sauce in a pot and stir in cream and parmesan cheese until cheese is melted into the sauce. Finish it with fresh basil and mix with pasta.
Some More Italian Sauces and Pasta Recipes!
Pesto Pasta – a bright and easy pasta recipe that’s unbelievably easy to make for a weeknight dinner
Pasta Primavera – loaded with roasted vegetables like summer squash, broccoli, juicy ripe tomatoes, lemon, basil and Parmesan cheese flavors
Cacio e Pepe – all you need to make this fantastic and flavorful dish is pasta, black peppercorns, and Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
Penne alla Vodka
- 1 lb penne or rigatoni pasta
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 oz pancetta or prosciutto diced
- 2-3 shallots diced
- 4-5 garlic cloves minced
- 28 oz can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- 6 oz tomato paste
- 3/4 cup vodka
- 1/2-1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp coarse sea salt more or less to taste
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup freshly shaved or grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil loose, not packed
- Start cooking the sauce at the same time as pasta to save time.
- Prepare ingredients for the sauce before starting to cook so everything is available when needed.
- Bring a pot of water for pasta to a boil and add about a tablespoon of salt. When water starts to boil, add pasta and cook according to the time recommendation on the package.
- Strain pasta when it's done and set aside until ready to mix with the sauce.
- Heat up a Dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil. Add diced pancetta (or prosciutto) and sauté until it starts to caramelize.
- Add diced shallots and sauté until onions also start to caramelize.
- Smash and mince garlic, add it to the pot, and sauté until garlic is fragrant.
- Add crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, stir well, and simmer until heated through. Pour in vodka, stir, and let it come to simmer.
- Simmer for a 5-7 minutes but make sure to keep the lid on with a small opening for the steam to escape. (Tomatoes will splatter while simmering so the lid will help a lot.)
- Stir in heavy whipping cream and add shaved Parmesan cheese, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir everything together and simmer until the cheese is all melted and smooth.
- Lower the heat to low. Stir in minced fresh basil and cooked pasta. Stir until pasta is completely coated with sauce and let it cook for just a couple of minutes over low heat.