December 8, 2022

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Best Penne alla Vodka Recipe


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Penne alla Vodka is a rich creamy tomato sauce that takes pasta dishes to a whole new level of decadent deliciousness. The heavy cream and grated Romano cheese along with the sweet San Marzano tomatoes add layers of flavor to this pasta sauce.

Penne alla Vodka in a white bowl garnished with chopped parsley

You’ll find many variations of this recipe on the internet, most adding sugar, and some adding meat. You really don’t need any extra ingredients or an overabundance of onions, shallots or garlic to make this easy pasta recipe.

close up of penne alla vodka in a white bowl

I’m sure you’ll agree that this simple sauce truly is the best Penne Vodka Sauce you’ll ever make after tasting this dish.

If you love creamy, cheesy pasta dishes, you’ll love my Easy Cacio e Pepe Recipe.

Is Penne alla Vodka really an Italian dish?

The short answer is no, it isn’t. It was created by a New York Chef in the seventies and is a gimmicky take on Pasta with Rosa Sauce, which was created in Italy long before the vodka version became popular.

But as things go, Penne alla Vodka actually became a trendy dish in Italy during the eighties. And since the Italians did come up with the Rosa Sauce long before Penne alla Vodka came into being, they pretty much claim to be the originators of the sauce.

What Ingredients do I need to make Penne alla Vodka?

ingredients to make Penne alla vodka.

Let’s start by gathering the ingredients we need to make Penne alla Vodka. In Chef Speak this is called the “Mise en Place” which translates to “Everything in its Place”.

Not only does setting your ingredients up ahead of time speed up the cooking process, it also helps ensure you have everything you need to make the dish.

Is Vodka really needed to make Penne alla Vodka?

Technically to be called a vodka sauce, vodka needs to be in the sauce. But in this chef’s opinion, it’s a waste of good vodka. You could use a little wine, but truth be told a little of the pasta cooking water will help the texture of the sauce achieve the right consistency.

In my younger wilder days, I was a serious vodka drinker, and honestly who really likes the flavor of vodka? It won’t hurt the sauce, but it really won’t help the sauce, so it’s entirely up to you if you want to add vodka to your sauce.

How to make Penne alla Vodka

When the sauce is simmering, begin cooking the penne for the dish.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain the cooked pasta well reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water.

six images showing how to make a Vodka sauce
  • Melt the butter in a large skillet. Then add the garlic and shallots to the pan over medium-low heat. Although them to cook for 3-4 minutes until fragrant, stirring as needed. This is one of the few Italian tomato sauces that start with butter instead of olive oil.
  • Add tomato paste and red pepper flakes to the pan.
  • Mix the pasta and pepper flakes into the garlic shallot mixture, and continue cooking for an additional minute or two.
  • Remove the pan from the burner and add the vodka to the pan. Vodka can ignite with high heat so be careful. *This is usually only a problem with gas heat, but it’s better to be safe when adding any alcohol to a hot pan.
  • Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan and mix well. Bring the sauce to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue to cook the sauce for 10 minutes stirring the mixture occasionally. *Real San Marzano tomatoes do not come crushed, only as whole tomatoes. You can crush them by hand or with an immersion blender or food processor.
  • Add the heavy cream and Romano cheese (or parmesan cheese) to the creamy vodka sauce and mix until smooth. Continue to simmer the sauce for 2 minutes. *Don’t let the sauce cook too long or the cheese will start to stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the fresh basil to the sauce and mix it into the sauce. Taste the sauce and reseason with salt and black pepper as needed.
penne added into the pan of vodka sauce

Add the pasta to the sauce and add 1-2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water to the sauce. If the sauce is too thick add more pasta water to the sauce.

Chef Dennis Tip

To make a quick Vodka Sauce aka Rosa Sauce simply add cream, grated romano cheese, and fresh chopped basil to a tomato sauce. It can be homemade tomato sauce or store-bought. It’s easy to put together and makes a delicious quick weeknight dinner.

Penne alla Vodka in a white bowl garnished with chopped parsley

Serve the Penne alla Vodka, garnishing the dish with fresh chopped parsley and additional grated cheese. Remember that people eat with their eyes first so make the plate pretty.

Chef Dennis Tip

If you’d like to kick up this dish, add chicken tenders, shrimp (grilled, baked or sauteed) or your favorite veggies to the sauce. You may need to build the sauce out a little to make up for the added ingredients but that’s easy enough to do with a little more cream or crushed tomatoes.

Recipe FAQ’s

Why do I use Vodka in Penne alla Vodka?

Allegedly it helps maintain a cohesive texture allowing the sauce to emulsify properly. But as all the alcohol burns off, you’re not really left with much to help with emulsification. White wine would also work with the same results. Vodka is also supposed to enhance the tomato flavor, but I’ve never noticed it. So if you want to leave the vodka out, it’s really going to make a difference in the saue.

Do Italians eat Penne alla Vodka?

Some might, but for the most part, a simple Rosa Sauce is what you’ll see gracing the tables in Italy if you see any type of creamy tomato sauce. A Rosa Sauce is exactly the same, it just doesn’t include vodka.

Is a pink sauce the same as a vodka sauce?

It is basically the same. Some say a pink sauce is mixing tomato sauce with an alfredo sauce, but since a real alfredo sauce doesn’t include cream, I don’t think that is the case. A pink sauce is also referred to as a rosa sauce, which in essence is a vodka sauce without the vodka.

More Pasta Recipes You’ll Love!

Penne alla Vodka in a white bowl garnished with chopped parsley

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Penne alla Vodka

My easy-to-make Penne alla Vodka is a rich creamy tomato sauce that takes pasta dishes to a whole other level of decadent deliciousness

Prep Time10 mins

Cook Time20 mins

Total Time30 mins

Course: Side Dish

Cuisine: Italian – American

Servings: 4

Calories: 750kcal

Author: Chef Dennis Littley

Ingredients

  • 1 lb penne pasta
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tbsp shallots minced
  • ½ cup tomato paste
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes to taste
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • 16 oz San Marzano tomatoes – crushed a little more or a little less is okay, depending upon the size of the can or jar
  • cup heavy cream add an additional cream if you like a creamier sauce
  • cup Romano cheese grated – add more cheese if you want a cheesier sauce.
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp basil chopped
  • 1 tbsp Italian parsley finely chopped for garnish (optional)

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Instructions

  • In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain the pasta well reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water.
  • Melt the butter in a large skillet.

  • Add the garlic and shallots to the pan over medium-low heat. Although them to cook for 3-4 minutes until fragrant. Stir as needed.

  • Add tomato paste and red pepper flakes, mixing them in and continue cooking for an additional minute or two.

  • Remove the pan from the burner and add the vodka to the pan. Vodka can ignite with high heat. *This is usually only a problem with gas heat, but it’s better to be safe when adding any alcohol to a hot pan.
  • Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan and mix well. Bring the sauce to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue to cook the sauce for 10 minutes stirring the mixture occasionally.

  • Add the heavy cream and Romano cheese to the sauce and mix until smooth. Continue to simmer the sauce for 2 minutes.*Don’t let the sauce cook too long or the cheese will start to stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the basil to the sauce and reseason the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

  • Add the pasta to the sauce and add 1-2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water to the sauce. If the sauce is too thick add more pasta water to the sauce.

  • Serve and garnish with fresh chopped parsley and additonal grated cheese.

Nutrition

Calories: 750kcal | Carbohydrates: 102g | Protein: 23g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 69mg | Sodium: 577mg | Potassium: 986mg | Fiber: 7g | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 1559IU | Vitamin C: 19mg | Calcium: 235mg | Iron: 4mg