Penne with spicy vodka sauce is a fun change from the original pasta with tomato sauce recipe. This pasta with a sharp flavor from the vodka and red pepper flakes make any occasion feel special.
I’ve always preferred a little spice in my meals which has always made this particular pasta sauce recipe one of my favorites.
I tend to lean towards Italian meals and when I just want an easy but delicious pasta I can share with my loved ones, I lean toward this vodka sauce recipe. Unsurprisingly, the two places that this dish originated from are New York City and Italy. Vodka sauce is a staple in Italian-American culture because of how simple yet delectable it is.
I tend to make this spicy vodka sauce recipe for small dinners with my family to dinner parties with close friends. This pasta dish makes a tasty accessible weekend treat with a handful of pantry staples and some spices. Put together it makes a savory meal to share with loved ones!
What is Vodka Sauce?
Vodka sauce is a sauce used in Italian-American cuisine, made from a smooth tomato sauce, vodka, Italian herbs, and heavy cream, which is what gives the sauce its defined orange color.
It contains ingredients found in any typical kitchen such as olive oil, kosher salt, parmesan cheese, and basil leaves. Although it contains alcohol, vodka sauce is made so the alcohol in the vodka cooks off as it simmers, so it is completely appropriate for children just as much as your friends or partner.
With this recipe taking less than 40 minutes to create and a serving size of 4-6 people, this recipe is great for people who aren’t professional chefs but still would like to get in the kitchen!
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Red chile flakes
- Double concentrate tomato paste or regular tomato paste
- Canned crushed tomatoes
- Dried oregano
- Penne or rigatoni pasta
- Heavy cream
- Grated parmesan cheese
- Fresh basil
How To Make It!
Warm olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add in shallots, salt and chile flakes and cook. Make sure to stir occasionally until shallots are tender but not fully browned for about 7 minutes.
Add in tomato paste then cook, be sure to stir the tomato paste into the shallots until it melts into a brownish color, which usually takes around 3 minutes.
Stir in crushed tomatoes and oregano then reduce heat to low. Let it cook, uncovered, stirring frequently until the flavors have melded and the sauce becomes really thick, almost a paste, this takes about 30 minutes. Don’t worry the vodka and cream will make it saucy again.
While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for about 1-2 minutes shy of al dente. Reserve a cup of the pasta water then drain pasta.
Once the sauce has cooked down stir the vodka and cream into the sauce. Taste it and add more salt or chile flakes if needed.
Stir the pasta into the sauce and cook over low heat until the pasta is well coated and warm. If the sauce seems too thick add some of the reserved pasta water a little at a time until it is nice and saucy. I don’t typically add butter but you could stir in a pat of butter here too for a little extra indulgence.
Serve the pasta in big bowls and sprinkle with parmesan and basil leaves. Enjoy!
What Makes This The Best Penne with Vodka Sauce?
I think this is one of the best homemade vodka sauce recipes because:
- Easy with a few steps and is much more accessible and easier to make than other recipes.
- Spice level is your choice! you can add extra or even no Chile flakes depending on how much spice you prefer.
- Most of the ingredients to make this recipe can already be found in your pantry, and if not then it won’t take longer than a 20 minute grocery run to find them.
- Even makes good leftovers! If you still have some left in the pan, it can be easily stored in the fridge in an airtight container and enjoyed later.
- Highly adaptable! Add cooked chicken, your favorite cooked vegetables like broccoli, asparagus or zucchini, or even browned pancetta or bacon.
Vodka Sauce FAQ’s
What is so special about vodka sauce? In the sauce the vodka acts as a flavor enhancer, boosting the sweet tanginess of the tomatoes as well as giving the sauce a luscious mouthfeel.
Can vodka sauce get you drunk? No it cannot. When the sauce is simmering, all of the alcohol from the vodka evaporates which makes it kid friendly. In this particular recipe, the vodka does not cook too long to preserve its flavor. If you are concerned about the alcohol level, make sure the sauce comes back to a simmer for a few minutes before adding the pasta in.
What pasta goes well with vodka sauce? This sauce is most typically served with shaped pasta instead of noodles. The most popular pasta to pair with vodka sauce is penne pasta, although you can use rigatoni pasta as well.
How is vodka sauce different from marinara? It is different because of the basis of the ingredients used. Marinara sauce has tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and herbs whereas in vodka sauce there’s vodka, cream, and some form of onion in addition to the tomatoes.
What To Serve With It
If you are making this for a simple weeknight dinner, you don’t really need to make any sides to complete the meal—plenty of grated parmesan and fresh basil will do just fine. But if you’d like to make this for a dinner party or just want something more serve with:
- Kale, Cara Cara Orange, and Almond Salad (from our sister site, ¡Hola! Jalapeño)
- Perfectly delicious sautéed broccolini
- Spinach Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette (again from ¡Hola! Jalapeño)
More Dinner Recipes You’ll Love!
- The Best Vegetable Biryani
- Vinegar and Spice Baked Baby Back Ribs
- Lemon-Broiled Cod
- Carne Picada (from HJ)
- Beef Barley Vegetable Soup
- Beef Stir-Fry with Mushrooms
- Authentic Chile Relleno Recipe (from HJ)
Ready to Fall In Love?
Because that’s what will happen when you make this Penne alla Vodka recipe. It’s a red sauce for the ages. When you try it, let me know how it went! Share a photo and tag me on Instagram using @katesbestrecipes so that I can see (don’t forget to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating)! Also, sign up for my weekly recipe newsletter so you never miss a thing.
PASTA WITH SPICY VODKA SAUCE
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 shallots minced (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1-1 1/2 teaspoons red chile flakes depending on how spicy you want it
- 1/4 cup double concentrate tomato paste or 1/2 cup regular tomato paste
- 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 pound penne or rigatoni pasta
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/3 cup vodka
- grated parmesan cheese
- thinly sliced basil leaves
- Heat olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add shallots, salt, and chile flakes and cook, stirring occasionally until shallots are tender but not browned, about 7 minutes.
- Add tomato paste and cook, stirring the tomato paste into the shallots until it is melted and has turned from bright red to a brownish color, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and oregano and reduce heat to low. Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thick and the flavors have melded, about 30 minutes. The sauce should be barely simmering. It will be very thick, almost a paste. This is fine, it will turn back into a sauce when you add the vodka and cream.
- Meanwhile bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Once boiling add the pasta and cook about 1-2 minutes shy of al dente. Save about a cup of the pasta water. Drain pasta.
- Once pasta is cooked and the sauce is thick, stir the vodka and cream into the sauce. Taste and add more salt and chile flakes if needed.
- Add the pasta to the sauce and cook over low heat, stirring until the pasta is well coated and everything is warm. Add a bit of the reserved pasta water a little at a time if it seems too thick.
- Spoon the pasta into bowls and sprinkle with parmesan and basil leaves.
In support of this small business, Kate’s Best Recipes earns revenue in a few different ways. Several sponsored posts are published each month. I also earn an affiliate commission on the sales of products I link to— there are a few of those links in this post. I only feature items I genuinely love and personally use on a regular basis. This commission is an arrangement between the retailer and Kate’s Best Recipes (readers never pay more for products). This income allows me to run the site. Thank you for reading!