Penne Alla Vodka

Penne Alla Vodka: a classic Italian family favorite! And this recipe is a quick and easy version that will make your weeknight dinners way more delicious!
An overhead image of a pan of penne vodka with a spoon in it surrounded by bread, basil and a striped towel.
Make sure you check out these other incredible Italian pasta recipes: Linguine with Clam Sauce, Baked Ziti and Spicy Sausage and Rapini Pasta.

Penne Alla Vodka

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Lets talk for a minute about “penne vodka” as we sometimes call it around here. This recipe has a really special place in my heart because of my beloved husband, who did not come from an Italian-American family like I did. He loves tomato sauce and pasta just as much as any average person, but he doesn’t have that red-sauce-every-day gene in him like most friends and family of mine who grew up in this culture. He’ll be happy to eat it for dinner and maybe enjoy some leftovers for lunch the next day. Whereas I would happily eat it every single day.

While he enjoys most tomato sauces (and I’m proud to say has developed his palate over the years to prefer my family’s meat sauce and marinara sauce recipes over all others) the sauce that really has his heart is homemade vodka sauce. Penne Vodka Sauce was his go-to on our dates in Little Italy in our early days, and it’s also a favorite in our family’s meal rotation now.

A large can of Tuttorosso crushed tomatoes surrounded by fresh basil.

My favorite tomatoes for my Penne Alla Vodka recipe

If you’ve been around for a while, then you know I’m a long time fangirl of Tuttorosso Tomatoes. My grandma used them. My mom uses them. And of course, I use them! It’s important to me to serve the most deliciously fresh tasting Italian Inspired tomato products to my family.

Quality is so important when cooking, it gives you the confidence to bring your recipes from good to exceptional and that is something that sets Tuttorosso apart; quality you can see and taste. They’re sustainably products (nothing artificial here!). They pick their tomatoes at peak ripeness and physically inspect every single one for imperfections. And they’re canned using only steam to preserve them, so they aren’t “processed food.” Only the very best!

A plate of penne alla vodka with bread and a can of crushed tomatoes behind it.

Tips for making vodka sauce

  • If possible, purchase your pancetta already diced.
  • I like to dice my onions fine so they cook down and soften quicker in the olive oil and don’t take over the sauce- let the tomatoes be the star of the show!
  • When you add the vodka, it will bubble up quite a bit- this is good! Use a wooden spoon to scrap all the delicious brown bits from the bottom of the pan as the vodka reduces and the alcohol cooks out to add even more great flavor to your sauce.
  • Once I add the tomatoes, I like to let it simmer for 10 minutes stirring, occasionally, to let all the flavors come together.
  • Cook the penne pasta 1 minute less than package directions for al dente. It will finish cooking in the pan while the flavor of the sauce infuses the pasta. And don’t forget to season with salt (like the sea!).
  • Make sure you don’t rinse the drained pasta before adding it to the sauce, that starch from the pasta water helps the sauce stick to the pasta. Honestly, if you can, use a large slotted spoon to scoop the pasta from the water directly into the sauce instead of draining.

A close up of penne vodka sauce in a pan with a wooden spoon in it.

Does vodka sauce have vodka in it?

Yes, that’s where it got it’s name and it wouldn’t be vodka sauce without it.

Can I make it without vodka or alcohol?

No, the vodka is vital to this recipe. It helps keep the cream and tomato sauce from curdling when combined.

Can I use half and half or milk for the heavy cream?

I wouldn’t recommend it for this recipe as you want the high fat content.

Can I make this ahead?

Yes, you can make it, cool completely and then reheat on medium before adding the pasta. You can always add a little pasta water to loosen it up without losing the creaminess.

Can I freeze vodka sauce?

Yes, it will freeze well in an airtight container for 3-6 months.

How long does it last?

This will stay good covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

A close up image of a plate of penne ala vdka with bread and basil behind it.

Ingredients for making vodka sauce

  • Olive oil
  • Pancetta
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Crushed red peppers
  • Vodka
  • Tuttorosso Tomatoes Italian Inspirations Crushed Tomatoes Chunky Style in Puree with Sweet Basil
  • Heavy cream
  • Penne pasta
  • Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil

Helpful tools:

  1. Chef’s knife
  2. Cutting board
  3. Large saute pan
  4. Wooden spoon
  5. Measuring cups
  6. Measuring spoons
Penne Alla Vodka
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
40 mins
 

Penne Alla Vodka: a classic Italian family favorite! And this recipe is a quick and easy version that will make your weeknight dinners way more delicious!

Course: dinner, Main, Main Course, Main dish
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: penne alla vodka
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Jessy Freimann, The Life Jolie
Ingredients
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 1 cup finely diced onion
  • 4 large cloves garlic minced or pressed
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup vodka
  • 1 28 ounce can Tuttorosso Tomatoes Italian Inspirations Crushed Tomatoes Chunky Style in Puree with Sweet Basil
  • 1 pound penne pasta, boiled 1 minute less than package directions for al dente
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoons roughly chopped basil
  • 2 Tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. On a different burner, bring large pot of water to a boil.

  2. Add pancetta to skillet and saute stirring often until almost crispy and beginning to brown, about 3-4 minutes.

  3. Add onions, garlic and crushed red pepper to pan and continue sautéing stirring often until onions have softened, about 3 minutes.

  4. Add vodka to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, scraping the brown bit from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Salt pasta water and add pasta to the pot of boiling water.

  5. Add Tuttorosso Tomatoes Italian Inspirations Crushed Tomatoes Chunky Style in Puree with Sweet Basil to the pan and stir to combine.

  6. Reduce heat to just below medium and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring periodically.

  7. Stir in heavy cream and cook for 2 more minutes stirring periodically.

  8. Add fresh basil and cheese and then use a slotted spoon to scoop pasta directly from the water into the pan of sauce.

  9. Stir to combine and cook about 2 more minutes. serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

Cook pasta 1 min less than package directions for al dente- it will finish cooking in the sauce.

An overhead image close up of penne alla vodka sauce.

If you tried this recipe please comment and rate it 🙂 I love hearing your feedback and answering your questions!

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