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This easy Penne alla Vodka recipe is my favorite, go-to, throw-it-together, last-minute have people over the dish! Ready in just 30 minutes, this sauce recipe boasts healthy, bright tomatoes in a creamy vodka sauce with basil and Parmesan cheese for the finish.
It’s so quick and amazingly delicious that you’d think it takes hours to prepare, but it takes about 30 minutes! And you can even make it ahead of time! My go-to dish for entertaining, plus I’ll suggest what to serve with penne alla vodka too!
I enjoy giving precise details in my recipe posts to lead my readers through any questions. If you’re just here for the printable recipe, feel free to click “Jump to Recipe” right under the title of this post, and you’ll head straight there!
What Is Vodka Sauce?
Well simply put, it’s a red cream sauce that you add vodka too, sometimes called pink vodka sauce. But it’s not quite that simple, you can’t just make your favorite sauce and toss in a shot of vodka.
If you did, you would be overpowered and put off by the bitter and strong alcoholic taste.
Cooking with Vodka
- By adding the vodka at the beginning with the melted butter and red pepper flakes and simmer away reducing it slightly. At first, it tastes peppery, but as it simmers it blossoms with herbal notes you wouldn’t expect.
- While vodka is flavorless, but in this dish, it brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes, adding a bit of bite with a smooth finish!
- When simmered for 30 minutes, there will still be 35% of the alcohol, and while it never fully cooks out, it continues to reduce with time.
Do You Need Vodka for Easy Vodka Sauce?
Yes! Vodka does alter the flavor of the sauce in a pleasing way. It adds a touch of heat and a bit of a sharp bite that help balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes and the cream. Is it absolutely necessary? No, but vodka sauce just wouldn’t be, well, vodka sauce without it. Source
Simple Ingredients for Penne with Vodka sauce
Ingredients, directions and nutritional information in the printable recipe card at the end of the post.
- Penne Pasta – Or other short ridged pasta, this holds the sauce in those little crevices.
- Butter – This is not diet food! Use real butter, I promise you won’t be sorry!
- Vodka – Use the best you can afford, that is the bottom line, the alcohol will burn off leaving behind a lovely and amazing flavor profile.
- Tomatoes – I use crushed tomatoes for this recipe, but go one better and crush your own San Marzano tomatoes.
- Seasoning Salt and Red Pepper Flakes – Add’s just the right amount of seasoning and kick!
- Heavy Cream – Did I mention this isn’t diet food? But oh, how your tastebuds will sing!
- Fresh Basil – Fresh is best for this dish.
- Parmesan Cheese – Use real fresh, grated parmesan for the most flavor.
- Italian Sausage – Pan fry or broil your favorite Italian sausage, and serve alongside.
Make Ahead Penne alla Vodka with Sausage
- Boil pasta until al dente, which means it has a bit of a bite to it still, not mushy, rinse with cool water in a colander and allow to cool 2-4 minutes.
- Toss back in pot and toss with a little olive oil (don’t douse it, just a tablespoon or so) tossing to coat.
- Store in airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- To serve, toss pasta into pot of boiling water for 2-3 minutes, drain and use as planned.
How to Prepare Vodka Cream Sauce in Advance
- Prepare sauce as described in recipe, allowing to cool to room temperature.
- Place sauce in airtight container and place in refrigerator; will store up to 7 days.
- Reheat on stovetop in large saucepan (this Staub Perfect Pan is truly perfect!), if desired add 2 teaspoons of vodka and simmer for additional 7 minutes on low. Proceed with recipe.
Can you Freeze Pasta
Again the answer is a resounding, YES!
- Prepare ahead of time as directed above in the “Make Ahead” portion making sure to cool* completely. It’s best to freeze the pasta and the sauce separately when possible.
- If you have leftovers (yay!) they will keep well in the fridge for 5-7 days, rewarm by placing in a covered oven safe dish, in a preheated 300 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Or microwave until warm.
- For frozen leftovers, follow above instructions, but sprinkle a tablespoon of water and bake for 30 minutes until warmed through, or microwave on lower heat until warmed through.
*Hot or warm foods that go directly into the freezer produce condensation, which creates frost — and frost is not our friend when it comes to food!
How To Make Penne Pasta with Vodka Cream Sauce
Start water boiling for pasta, add a teaspoon or two of salt
Throw (or calmly place) butter into a large skillet, melt and add red pepper flakes. Add more red pepper flakes if you like it spicier!
Carefully pour in vodka, it will boil up violently initially. Allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes until reduced by about half.
Add crushed tomatoes, or whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed with your hands as you place in pan.
Pour in heavy cream, stirring gently to combine.
Add seasoning salt, stir to mix, and bring to a simmer, then simmer stirring occasionally for 7-10 minutes. While the sauce simmers, cook pasta according to package directions.
Chiffonade (slice) your basil while sauce simmers and set aside grated parmesan cheese.
If meat is desired, cook Italian Sausage, meatballs or ground beef in a separate pan. Or keep it vegetarian! Add cheese, stirring to melt.
Once sauce has simmered and pasta is drained, add pasta to saucepan (if too much, then pour pasta back into the pot it was boiled in (minus the water) and pour the sauce over the top, gently mixing to coat)
Top with shaved parmesan and minced fresh basil, serve immediately, with garlic bread and a crisp green salad.
Variations & Substitutions
- PASTA | You don’t have to use Penne Pasta, use any ridged pasta (it holds the sauce better), like Rigatoni (pictured above), fusilli, mostaccioli, and of course penne.
- PROTEIN | Add some if you like, we like Italian sausage and/or meatballs, but grilled or rotisserie chicken, or shrimp would be delicious too!
- SIMMER | Be sure to simmer the sauce for at least 7 minutes, this reduces the bite and bitterness of the vodka ensuring it only enhances the sweet tomatoes.
- QUALITY TOMATOES | Italian canned tomatoes, splurge for the more expensive ones, it is so worth it. I like San Marzano! Crushed if you are in a rush, whole if you have a little time. You can place them in a blender and blend ahead of time, or whir with an immersion blender after you’ve simmered the sauce, before adding the cheese.
- OTHER DISHES | Try using the sauce in place of other red pasta sauces; like in lasagna, stuffed shells, ravioli and more.
Serve Penne Alla Vodka hot with extra shaved cheese, grind a little additional salt and pepper if desired.
Best Sides to Serve with Penne alla Vodka
This is a meal all itself, and doesn’t really need a whole lot in order to make it a complete meal, here are a few suggestions.
Crispy Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli
Beautifully seasoned and oven roasted to perfection, these healthy crispy Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli recipe is a game-changer for weeknight meals. The prep is quick, and it only takes about 30 minutes for the veggies to roast.
Air Fryer Asparagus Recipe
This Air fryer asparagus recipe is a healthier and easier way to prepare garden fresh asparagus. A fresh and healthy veggie side dish with simple seasonings for amazing flavor and beautiful presentation.
Easy Nut Free Basil Pesto Sauce Recipe
Drizzle a little fresh pesto over the top of the Penne, so good.
What Desserts to Serve with Penne alla Vodka?
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake
A copycat recipe for Nothing Bundt Cakes for moist and amazing Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt cake! The best and easiest part, this Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake recipe uses cake mix and pudding! The ideal recipe for Mother's day, baby and bridal showers or just because! Make bundtlets, mini bundts or cupcakes too!
Classic Italian Tiramisu Recipe
Traditional Tiramisu is an Italian dessert recipe with layers of mascarpone custard, whipped cream, layered between rum and espresso soaked ladyfingers.
Italian Lemon Ricotta Cake Recipe
You are going to love my Italian Lemon Ricotta Cake Recipe. This rich, moist cake is an easy cake recipe filled with rich lemon flavor and creamy ricotta that is an authentic Italian treat – made right in your kitchen. This easy lemon ricotta cake may look plain, but the taste is out of this world! An Italian cheesecake if you will!
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30 Minute Penne alla Vodka
- 1 lb Penne pasta, or try Rigatoni (pictured above, fusilli, mostaccioli, and of course penne), cooked according to package directions
- 6-8 tablespoons butter, regular or unsalted, if using unsalted, add ¼ teaspoon more seasoning salt
- ½ – 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more depending on desired heat
- ¾ cup vodka
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, or whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushing with hands, or in food processor, blender
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon seasoning salt, like Lawry’s
- 8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
- 4 oz parmesan cheese, grated or shaved
- Fresh ground salt and pepper to taste
- Start 4 qts of water to boil in separate pot for pasta.
- Melt butter in a large skillet. Stir in red pepper flakes and vodka, vodka will boil violently. Allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in crushed tomatoes and cream. Simmer 7 – 10 minutes
- Add seasoning salt and stir well.
- If desired, add cooked meatballs or Italian Sausage pieces for extra protein. Cover and simmer until warmed through.
- While sauce simmers, cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking; chiffonade or chop of your basil.
- Grate parmesan cheese. Drain pasta and return to pot. Pour pasta into sauce and stir to coat. Sprinkle in basil and shaved parmesan, mix gently.
- Serve immediately with fresh parmesan grated on top, along with a few grinds of salt and pepper if desired.
- Delicious served with crusty Italian bread, garlic bread and a crisp green salad.
✱ Kathleen’s Tips
The Fresh Cooky is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is only an estimate. We recommend running the ingredients through an online nutritional calculator if you need to verify any information.
About Kathleen Pope
Recipe Innovator | Food Photographer | Food Writer
Hi, I’m Kathleen Pope. Here at The Fresh Cooky you will find easy, mostly from-scratch, trusted recipes for all occasions. From speedy dinners to tasty desserts, with easy step-by-step instructions. I am here to help teach you how to make mouthwatering recipes without spending hours in the kitchen. Read more about Kathleen here.