Homemade Vodka Sauce: Penne Alla Vodka

Penne Alla Vodka is a dish you’ll find yourself making over and over again. Tender penne pasta is coated in a lusciously creamy and spicy homemade vodka sauce to create a classic, comforting dish that’s perfect for date night or family dinners.

This recipe was originally published in 2018. It was updated in 2021 to add new photographs. The original recipe remains the same. Enjoy!

Whether you need something impressive for date night or a quick and flavorful weeknight dinner, Penne Alla Vodka is it. Bright, acidic tomatoes are simmered with aromatics, heavy cream, and a splash of vodka to create this rich and complex homemade vodka sauce. With a welcome kick from red pepper flakes, each bite of the coated penne is a touch spicy and full of flavor.

The simple, yet high-quality ingredients in this easy vodka sauce penne come together to create a symphony of flavors and textures. Dress this dish up or down by serving it with kid-friendly Toasted Crostinis and Roasted Broccoli, or with Sous Vide Asparagus and Balsamic Glazed Brussel Sprouts for a more sophisticated spread. The flavor profiles are both comforting and exciting, making this dish perfect for everyone.

What is vodka sauce?

Penne alla vodka, or penne pasta in vodka sauce, is an Italian-American dish that became popular in the 1980s. Featuring a spicy and creamy tomato sauce, its unique qualities come from the splash of vodka. With one bite, you’ll notice how this vodka sauce is lighter, sharp, and unlike any other tomato sauce you’ve tried.

Ingredients for penne alla vodka on serving tray.

How to make vodka sauce

To make a luscious, spicy, and creamy vodka sauce, start by heating some olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft. Lastly, stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant.

Next, add a splash of vodka to the pan and turn the heat up slightly. Simmer until reduced by half. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and let the mixture simmer for about 10 minutes.

Finish the sauce by stirring in the heavy cream, parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Give everything a good stir before assembling the penne alla vodka.

How to make penne alla vodka

Start by boiling your penne in a pot of well-salted boiling water. Once al-dente, drain the water from your pasta, being sure to save a small amount. Add the cooked pasta to your creamy vodka sauce and stir. 

If your sauce is on the thicker side, stir in a small amount of the reserved pasta water to thin it out. The starch in the water should also help the sauce stick to your pasta. 

To serve, spoon the creamy vodka pasta into bowls and top with fresh basil, parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil. Dig in and enjoy!

Vodka sauce in large pan with spoon.

Recipe tips

  • Add in sliced Italian sausages, roasted tomatoes (or air fryer tomatoes), mushrooms, and Italian herbs to make each bite extra hearty.
  • Want to add even more flavor? Try swapping out the raw garlic for this roasted garlic.
  • To make vegan penne alla vodka, use dairy free butter, coconut cream, and dairy free parmesan cheese instead.
  • Stir in up to 1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes into the sauce to give it more heat. The spice pairs really well with the bite from the vodka.
  • Store the leftover penne alla vodka in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. 
  • To reheat, add the leftovers to a pot with a splash of extra vodka. Heat over medium heat until warmed through.

Recipe FAQs

What does the vodka do in vodka sauce?

Vodka is used to enhance the aromatics in creamy tomato sauce. Its hot, slightly bitter notes contrast nicely against the sweet tomatoes and rich cream, allowing these flavors to really shine. Once added to the sauce and simmered, the vodka loses most of its alcoholic pungency—it simply leaves behind a slight bite.

Does vodka sauce taste like vodka?

Nope! Vodka is nearly odorless and flavorless on its own. As it cooks in tomato sauce, the alcohol burns off even more and enhances the overall flavor of the dish.

What can I substitute for vodka?

If you don’t have any vodka on hand, you can swap in some white wine in a pinch. The finished sauce won’t have quite the same bite to it but it will still be tasty. 
You can also leave the alcohol out entirely and still have a creamy and delicious tomato sauce. If you choose to omit the alcohol, you may want to swirl in a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar when the sauce is finished to give it that extra layer of flavor.

Extreme close up of penne alla vodka in serving pan.

What to serve with penne alla vodka

Wine pairings for vodka sauce penne

  • A bright and fruity Italian red wine like Sangiovese has a slight acidity and pairs nicely with the creamy sauce.
  • A Sauvignon Blanc has high acidity and a citrus quality that contrasts nicely with the richness of the dish.
  • MORE —> the BEST wines to pair with pasta.
Penne alla vodka in serving pan.

More creamy pasta recipes

Did you try this penne alla vodka?

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Overhead shot of penne alla vodka in white bowl next to glass of red wine.

Homemade Vodka Sauce Recipe

This Pasta Alla Vodka recipe will be a definite keeper. Pasta is tossed in a tomato vodka sauce that’s deliciously creamy and kicked up with a sprinkling of red pepper flakes.
5 from 5 votes
Print Pin
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 6 servings



  • Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. 
  • Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and cook for 3-5 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds longer, until fragrant. Pour in vodka, increase the heat to medium-high and reduce by half, about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add in crushed tomatoes, bring to boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer about 10 minutes, while the pasta cooks.
  • While sauce simmers, add your pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. 1 – 2 minutes less than called for on the package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
  • To your sauce, add the heavy cream, parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the pasta and stir to combine. Add pasta water, if needed, to thin the sauce a bit.
  • Top with fresh basil and additional parmesan cheese, if desired. Drizzle with olive oil to finish. 
Did you make this recipe?Mention @platingsandpairings or tag #platingsandpairings!


Calories: 690kcal | Carbohydrates: 69g | Protein: 19g | Fat: 27g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Cholesterol: 74mg | Sodium: 468mg | Potassium: 645mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 1110IU | Vitamin C: 14.1mg | Calcium: 279mg | Iron: 3mg

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9 thoughts on “Homemade Vodka Sauce: Penne Alla Vodka”

    • Hi Judy – Onions will work in this recipe as well. I would use maybe 1/4 cup of chopped onions in place of shallots. You may be able to find shallots though. They’re pretty widely available and normally located near the garlic or onions. Hope that helps!

  1. 5 stars
    It is delicious. I used a whole bulb of roasted garlic and more red pepper (we like it spicy here), but everything else was as the recipe is written. This recipe replaces my go-to Penne a la Vodka from a famous model. I served it with homemade Caesar Salad and a store-bought loaf of ciabatta bread and paired it with Sauvignon Blanc. Yummy!


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