Penne alla Vodka - Creamy and bright vodka sauce and penne are a classic combo

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Penne alla Vodka - Creamy and bright vodka sauce and penne are a classic combo

While the origin story of penne alla vodka is hard to pin down, it has since become an American staple appearing on menus at Italian-American restaurants across the country.

I find myself reaching for foods that are familiar and consistent whether I'm dining out or dining at home. I hope this turns into a dough for you too!

What is vodka sauce? Also, tips!

The classic penne alla vodka is so simple: the smooth and creamy vodka sauce can be made in the same time it takes to cook the pasta.

Even those who do not consider themselves vodka lovers will like the taste of this sauce.

Once the alcohol evaporates, the bitterness of the vodka dissipates and mixes with the richness of the tomato sauce.

Vodka sauce is made with tomatoes, sour cream, and vodka. It is slightly sweet and very spicy.

The vodka provides a clean, subtle flavor once the alcohol has cooked, reduced by half. This helps lighten the tomatoes.

Is vodka necessary? The short answer is yes and here's why.

Use whatever brand of vodka you like to drink; It doesn't have to be a fancy, high-end brand, but don't use flavored vodka.

I use Absolut Vodka or Tito's Handmade Vodka.

Helpful Tips for Making Penne alla Vodka

Season garlic with black pepper as it cooks; the black pepper will roast in the oil, adding an extra touch of personality to the sauce.

Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the sauce at the end to make it velvety and rich.

To ensure each bite is cheesy, add the pecorino when mixing the pasta and sauce.

Delicious variations

There are so many ways to make this classic pasta:

  • Add the sautéed mushrooms.
  • Add fresh mozzarella chunks to the gooey melted cheese.
  • Add sweet snap peas – This is a popular way to brighten up dough with hints of color and sweetness.
  • Add grilled chicken or stir-fried shrimp for a protein boost.
  • Pipe rigatoni and rigate are great pasta shapes because their tube shapes catch the sauce like penne does.
  • Many penne alla vodka recipes call for pancetta or sausage, but this is not necessary. Cut the pieces the size you want and brown them before cooking the onions.

Make the sauce ahead

It's easy to make the sauce ahead of time for a weeknight meal or if you're preparing to entertain a crowd on the weekend.

Vodka sauce can be stored for up to 3 days in the refrigerator or for weeks in the freezer.

If you're concerned about the sauce breaking up once thawed, add the cream just before serving.

Reheat the sauce on the stove over low heat while cooking the pasta before serving.


  • 1 pound dry penne rigate
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 large garlic cloves, finely minced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a little more for pasta water
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup vodka
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped basil leaves (about 15 large leaves)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley


Cook the pasta:

Fill a large pot with water (about 4 liters) and salt generously. Bring to a boil over high heat.

Add pasta and cook until al dente, following package directions.

Drain the pasta in a colander placed in the sink.

Meanwhile, start the vodka sauce:

Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the oil and when hot add the garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and black pepper.

Cook until tender, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, about 4 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the vodka. You're doing this out of the heat to prevent a flare-up, especially if you have a gas stove.

Return the pan to the now medium-high heat and cook off the alcohol for about 2 minutes.

Vodka should be reduced by half.

Add the crushed tomatoes:

Pour in the crushed tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes until the raw tomato flavor is gone.

Add sour cream:

Reduce heat to medium-low and add butter and cream. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from the heat and puree the sauce with an immersion blender until smooth.

You may need to transfer the sauce to a narrower container to do this. You can use a blender instead.

Transfer the sauce back to the pot and cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Mix the pasta into the sauce:

Add the drained pasta to the sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the pecorino, basil and parsley. Stir the pasta into the vodka sauce until evenly coated.

Serve with more cheese sprinkled on top.

Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat on the stove over low heat with a little water or cream.

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