Vodka sauce is a smooth, creamy tomato sauce that is cooked with a hefty addition of vodka to enhance the flavors and aroma. This simple tomato sauce takes only 20 minutes to prepare and can be used with your favorite pasta daily. Penne alla Vodka will take you minutes to prepare with a jar of homemade vodka sauce in the fridge.
What is Vodka Sauce?
Vodka sauce is believed to be an Italian American tomato based sauce that became popular around the late 70’s/early 80’s. Why I say “believed to be” is because the true origin of this sauce is unknown. Although, not knowing the exact origin of this sauce doesn’t change the fact that it is an easy and delicious sauce for any pasta.
This sauce is made with simple vegetables like shallots, garlic, and canned tomatoes. I prefer the flavor of shallots in this sauce but you can substitute Vidalia onion if shallots are not available.
Since it’s a creamy tomato sauce, there is a good amount of heavy whipping cream in the sauce and shaved Parmesan cheese. For smoother and stronger tomato flavor, add a can of tomato paste as well.
Of course, Vodka sauce wouldn’t be what it is without vodka in it. Vodka is a big and important part of the sauce, so don’t skip it.
Finish it off with some fresh basil at the end and you will have a delicious dinner in just 20 minutes.
Does the sauce really need vodka?
I am anticipating this question to be asked a lot so I will answer it ahead of time. Many people don’t like to add alcohol to their food for various reason and although it is completely understandable, some recipes are just not the same without it.
Vodka sauce is one of those recipes that are affected by skipping the alcohol. Even though vodka is virtually flavorless (at least it’s supposed to be), it is not added to this sauce for its own flavor. What it does, is bring out the flavor and changes the texture of the tomatoes and cream. What alcohol does when added to a cooking process is releases the flavors that otherwise don’t get released. It’s very much a chemical reaction that can only happen with addition of alcohol.
Vodka enhances the aroma of the sauce, it gives tomatoes and cream a smoother texture, and it intensifies the flavor but keeps it balanced at the same time.
HOW TO MAKE VODKA SAUCE
I wasn’t joking when I said that the sauce will take only about 20 minutes to make. There is no long-time simmering or slow cooking needed, simply saute vegetables, and then add ingredients in small increments.
Heat up a Dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil. Add diced shallots and saute until it starts to brown. Smash and mince garlic, add it to the pot, and saute until garlic is fragrant.
Add the can of crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, simmer until heated through. Pour in vodka, stir well, and let it come to simmer. Simmer for a 5-7 minutes but make sure to keep the lid on the top with a small opening for the steam to escape. (Tomatoes will splatter while simmering so the lid will help a lot.)
Pour 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. Stir in minced fresh basil and let it cook for just a minute or so.
Take off heat and it’s ready to be mixed with pasta.
TIP: the sauce can be left chunky or blended smooth. If you want to blend the sauce, use an immersion blender or transfer it into a food processor. Be careful if transferring the sauce to blend it because it will be scalding hot.
PENNE ALLA VODKA
Who doesn’t love a bowl of comforting, smooth Penne alla Vodka?
It’s so easy to make that the only additional step you will need is cooking the pasta. Depending on the pasta, it will take about 15 minutes to prepare so cook it at the same time as the sauce.
To make the sauce, simply follow the steps of the Vodka Sauce recipe. Once pasta is al dente, drain off the water and set pasta aside.
Mix pasta and sauce together in a pot and serve with more Parmesan cheese and fresh basil on top.
TIP: if penne is not available, you can use rigatoni, tortiglioni, or even rotini. The reason I recommend pasta with ridges on the outside, is because the sauce will adhere to it much better.
HOW TO STORE VODKA SAUCE
Leftover sauce is best to cool quickly and get it in the refrigerator.
Store sauce in a glass jar (or two jars) with a lid for 4-7 days. Keep the sauce refrigerated.
Food spoils faster when bacteria is introduced. To lower chances of bacteria getting in, do not dip spoons or anything else into the jar when getting sauce, but pour some out instead. Keep the lid on when storing and open the jar as little as possible.
It’s better to divide the sauce among two jars so that the same jar is not opened several times for different recipes.
SOME MORE RECIPES TO TRY
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- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 shallots (can substitute 1 Vidalia onion)
- 6 garlic cloves
- 28 oz crushed tomatoes
- 6 oz tomato paste
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (more or less according to the taste)
- 2 tbsp minced fresh basil
- Heat up a Dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil. Add diced shallots and saute until it starts to brown.
- Smash and mince garlic, add it to the pot, and saute 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.
- Stir in minced fresh basil and let it cook for just a minute or so.
- Take off heat and it’s ready to be mixed with pasta.
- TIP: the sauce can be left chunky or blended smooth. If you want to blend the sauce, use an immersion blender or transfer it into a food processor. Be careful if transferring the sauce to blend because it will be scalding hot.
- TIP: cook pasta at the same time as the sauce because both will take about the same amount of time.