penne alla vodka

If I had to guess who I was in my past life, I’d have to say an Italian =P  Italians can take a few simple ingredients like tomatoes, garlic, shallots, olive oil, a bit of cream and a splash of vodka and make something so comforting, so heart-warming and incredibly soul-satisfying that it just brings you back home, no matter where you are or who you’re with at the time. It’s no wonder that Rachel Ray called her version of penne alla vodka, You Won’t be Single for Long Vodka Cream Pasta =P

Our version of penne alla vodka is a bit simpler, but sometimes the simplest solution just so happens to be the best ;) I first made this dish for Anthony on Valentine’s Day (our very first one together) and needless to say, we weren’t single for long =P  I guess it’s true what they say… “The key to a man’s heart is through his stomach” =D




2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (See the Guide)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced
1/4 teaspoon piment d’Espelette or crushed red pepper flakes, optional (See the Guide)
1/2 cup vodka
1 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes (See the Guide)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 pound penne
  salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste



Large cutting board
Heavy-bottomed French or Dutch oven (See the Guide)
Chef’s knife (See the Guide)
Can opener
Colander or pasta strainer
Slotted wooden spoon or non-metal spatula
Microplane or box grater



  • In a large heavy-bottomed French or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and shallots and gently saute for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly until fragrant and translucent. Lower the heat if the garlic starts to brown. Add the piment d’Espelette or red pepper flakes, if using.
  • Pour in the vodka and let reduce by half, another 3-5 minutes.
  • Add in the tomatoes and a sprinkling of salt. Bring to a boil and let simmer, uncovered, stirring often to break up the tomatoes, until sauce is thick, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, bring a large stockpot of water to a boil over high heat. Once the water boils, salt the water and cook penne until just under al dente, about 9 minutes and then drain in a colander.
  • While the pasta cooks, stir cream into the thickened tomato sauce. Bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer. Season again with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the drained pasta to the tomato sauce and stir to coat the pasta with the sauce. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the pasta; continue to stir and reduce if needed.
  • Turn off the heat and sprinkle Parmigiano-Reggiano over the pasta and toss to coat evenly.
  • Just before serving, thinly slice or tear up the basil leaves.* Divide pasta among 4 serving platters. Garnish with a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano and basil.



  • Since basil tends to bruise easily, wait until the last minute to prepare the basil garnish. You can stack up the basil leaves, roll them tightly like a cigar, and use a sharp knife to chiffonade or cut the basil into fine ribbons. Note that a steel knife will oxidize the basil quite rapidly and turn the cut edges of the basil black. Simply tearing the basil leaves by hand will slow down the oxidation process and will provide your dish with a more rustic look.

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14 comments to penne alla vodka

  • Gary Wise

    Vodka has no flavor. How does it add to the dish other than water, alcohol & flaming? Thanks! :)

  • Lilia

    Hi Gary, you asked a really good question that even had me thinking for a bit there =P We add vodka to help bring out the more intense alcohol-soluble flavors of the tomatoes, those flavors which can only be released by the addition of alcohol. And vodka is able to accomplish this by adding very little additional flavoring to the sauce, as opposed to other alcohols like cognac or wine. You can think of this as a simple tomato sauce… with a kick =P

    The added vodka also lowers the boiling point of our cream sauce to help prevent it from curdling. I know you may think that vodka doesn’t impart any flavor, but if you do a little taste test, I think you’ll agree, penne alla vodka just isnt’ the same with the vodka ;)

  • This looks so good…so glad I found your blog via Foodbuzz! I love cooking pasta…one of my faves is Giada’s amatriciana sauce…so good!

  • That looks good. Thanks for the bit on vodka’s benefit to the pasta dish. I rarely cook with alcohol. Nothing against it. Just not experienced. Will have to push that comfort zone.

    Your pasta looks cooked to perfect texture.

  • I think I must have been an Italian in my past life too :) This looks fantastic!

  • This pasta looks awesome! you’re a talented photographer. As simple as the ingredients sound, you still did a superb job of making this pasta dish – mine most certainly wouldn’t have turned out this well.

  • I’ve been looking for a penne alla vodka recipe and here it is.
    Looks amazing!

  • RavieNomNoms


  • Anthony is a lucky man. And you’re so right, Italians take such fresh and simple ingredients that makes the most delicious dishes! Great recipe! (=

  • One of my fav’s I like the five min prep trime!

  • Lovely rendition of this classic pasta. It’s my niece’s favorite dish so I have considerable experience with it, LOL! And I couldn’t agree more, simplicity is the essence of this dish–and Italian cooking in general. Complimenti alla cuoca!

  • Love Penne with Vodka and I don’t know why I have never made it home!!

  • candice

    Hi Lilia,

    I’ve made this dish using Rachel Ray’s recipe, but for some reason, my sauce never thickens up. Do you know what may be the cause of this? I’m going to give your recipe a try.


  • Lilia

    Hi Candice!
    Rachel Ray’s recipe uses quite a bit more tomatoes and also adds in chicken stock, so if you follow hers, you’d have to let it reduce quite a bit to get it to thicken up. Also, depending on what brand of tomatoes you use, they may contain more liquid… we love Cento San Marzano Tomatoes ;)

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