Penne Alla Vodka

Penne alla vodka pasta is one of the creamiest tomato sauce pasta recipes you’ll ever have. It is absolutely divine. This is the best vodka sauce recipe for your penne pasta.

penne alla vodka in a bowl.

Why this is the best recipe for vodka sauce

This is a perfect recipe for those busy weeknights. You can have restaurant-quality food for the whole family and the total time of cooking this recipe is going to take less than 30 minutes. So if you love a delicious tomato sauce, I know you are going to love this comfort food.

History of vodka sauce

You might think vodka sauce was created when an Italian and a Russian met up for dinner. It is not one of those traditional recipes, according to Williams-Sonoma, this recipe has its origins in the 1980s. It is said this dish was created to popularize Vodka in Italy.

If you don’t drink alcohol, this is one dish that you can substitute chicken stock or another type of stock. Note that it won’t be quite the same. One bite of this delicious pasta sauce, and I know you will think vodka sauce is one of the best pasta dishes you can serve. It may even become a new family favorite.

a bowl of vodka sauce in front of a bowl of penne alla vodka.

Ingredients for the Best Penne alla Vodka Recipe

You can make the sauce for the best penne alla vodka recipe in about 20 minutes. Just enough time to make the penne. And you can save the sauce for multiple meals.

Here’s what you need:

  • Fresh garlic cloves – fresh cloves give you the best flavor of garlic
  • White onion – I love the sweetness of white onions, yellow are ok to use, but they can often taste hot.
  • Prosciutto – if you don’t have any on hand you can swap this out for thinnly sliced bacon
  • Olive oil – I love extra virgin olive oil.
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Chopped canned tomatoes – if you can find San Marzano tomatoes, these have the best flavor.
  • Tomato sauce – again if you can find San Marzano, that’s always my first choice
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • Vodka – I wouldn’t purchase or use an expensive Vodka , my rule of thumb is to buy Vodka that is in a glass bottle, some of the brands sold in plastic bottles aren’t ideal to use.
  • Tomato paste
  • Penne pasta – you could make this gluten-free by using one of those gluten free pastas
  • Parmesan cheese – get the kind that you grate yourself. Don’t use the stuff that comes in the green can.
  • Fresh basil for garnish if desired
penne alla vodka ingredients on a baking sheet.

How to Make Penne alla Vodka

When you read the directions of this recipe, it might seem a little difficult, but it is actually quite simple. The end result of this recipe is going to be a creamy tomato sauce you are going to love. Here are the steps:

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat then add chopped garlic and onions to the pan.
  2. Sauté chopped garlic and onions until the onions are almost translucent.
  3. Add chopped prosciutto and crushed red pepper.
  4. Sauté until the prosciutto is slightly crisped.
  5. Add chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce, and salt.
    cooked onions, garlic, and prosciutto in a skillet.
  6. Cook for a few minutes, on medium-high heat stirring occasionally.
  7. Add in cream and mix thoroughly.
  8. Add in vodka and cook for 5 minutes. Allow time for the alcohol too cook off.
    vodka sauce in a pan.
  9. To serve, pour the sauce over the cooked pasta.
  10. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley if desired.

Watch the video in the recipe card to see how easy it is to make Vodka Sauce!

Tips for Making Penne alla Vodka Recipe

  • If you don’t have prosciutto, you can use bacon or even sausage.
  • To make the sauce thicker, add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste (see more suggestions below).
  • If you don’t have penne pasta, other types of pasta will work just fine!
  • Substitutes for vodka include water, apple cider, or white grape juice mixed with lime juice.

What to Serve with Penne Alla Vodka

  • Caesar salad or other side salad
  • Homemade garlic bread
  • a glass of red wine
a bowl of penne alla vodka.
What does the vodka do in Penne alla Vodka?

Vodka is a key ingredient in this recipe, it acts as an emulsifier for the water and oil in the sauce. It allows the sauce to combine well and not separate. What it does helps with the sweetness of the tomatoes, is also gives the sauce the creamy consistency you are going to love.
Since vodka is essentially flavorless, its main purpose is the composition of the dish, rather than adding flavor.

Can you get drunk from Penne alla Vodka?

No, you cannot! There is not much vodka in this dish to impair you. Plus, during the cooking process of the sauce, the alcohol will evaporate out of the dish when it is heated up.
So making this recipe won’t get you tipsy but the vodka will add great flavor. Please read about alcohol evaporation in cooking and baking if you have concerns.

Do you need vodka for Penne alla Vodka? 

If you would rather avoid using vodka you can substitute it out for something else. But, you need to add another liquid. Do not just omit the vodka from the sauce.

What can I substitute for vodka in Penne alla Vodka?

I would suggest using either water, apple cider, or white grape juice with a hint of lime juice mixed into the juice to add a little extra flavor

How can I make the vodka sauce thicker? 

The nice thing about making your own sauce is that you can decide exactly how thick you want the sauce to be.

If once you get done and the sauce seems to be a little on the runny side, here are a few suggestions you could try to thicken up your vodka sauce. 

One of the easiest ways is to cook the sauce longer. That way you do need to add anything extra and change the taste of the dish.

You can add in a bit more of the tomato paste to help thicken up the sauce.

Add more cream and then continue to simmer the sauce some more to allow it to thicken up.

Add some cheese and allow it to melt completely. However, this will alter the taste of the sauce slightly.

Pour a teaspoon of cornstarch into the sauce, stir it together, and cook the sauce a little longer and let the sauce thicken up with the help of the cornstarch.

What should you do with leftover Penne alla Vodka.

  • Store the pasta sauce seperately from the cooked pasta in an airtight container for up to five days in your refrigerator.
  • Freeze left overs again, pasta sauce in penne pasta seperately for up to 4 months.
  • For best results reheat the sauce in a small pot over medium-low heat. You may want to add a bit more cream to the sauce when reheating to thin it out a bit.
overhead view of penne alla vodka and vodka sauce in bowls.

Love Pasta? Try these recipes!

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a bowl of vodka sauce in front of a bowl of penne alla vodka.

Penne Alla Vodka

Penne alla Vodka Sauce is a classic Italian pasta dish that you can put together in no time at all. 
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate Add to Collection
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: Pasta Recipes, Penne alla Vodka
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 629kcal


  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons chopped garlic
  • 1 cup chopped white onion
  • 4 ounces prosciutto you can use bacon
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 14 ounces chopped tomatoes 1 can
  • 14 ounces tomato sauce 1 can
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste – if desired to make thicker


  • Cook the penne according to the package instructions in a large pot of water, make sure you use the al dente directions. Drain.
  • While the pasta is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium low.
  • Add chopped garlic and onions to the pan. Be careful not to let the garlic to burn.
  • Sauté garlic and chopped onions until the onions are almost translucent.
  • Add chopped prosciutto and crushed red pepper to the pan.
  • Sauté until the prosciutto is cooked and slightly crisped.
  • Add chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce, and salt.
  • Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes stirring from time to time.
  • Add in cream and mix thoroughly.
  • Add in 1/2 cup of vodka and cook for about five minutes.
  • To serve, mix the sauce and pasta together.
  • Garnish with Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley if desired.



  • If you don’t have prosciutto, you can also use bacon or even sausage.
  • To make the sauce thicker, add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste.
  • We make this with penne pasta but another type of pasta will work just fine!
  • Substitutes for vodka include water, apple cider, or white grape juice mixed with lime juice.


Calories: 629kcal | Carbohydrates: 68g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 28g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 67mg | Sodium: 826mg | Potassium: 684mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 1085IU | Vitamin C: 15mg | Calcium: 84mg | Iron: 3mg

About Stephanie Manley

I recreate your favorite restaurant recipes, so you can prepare these dishes at home. I help you cook dinner, and serve up dishes you know your family will love. You can find most of the ingredients for all of the recipes in your local grocery store.

Stephanie is the author of's Dining Out in the Home, and's Dining Out in the Home 2.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Jessica

    This is similar to how I make it! After my favorite restaurant closed, one of their sous chefs graciously gave me the recipe. The only differences are that I take 2 carrots, 1 stalk of celery, and 1 cup mushrooms and blend them to a pulp and saute them in with the prosciutto until most of the moisture has evaporated, then stir in the vodka, tomatoes, and seasonings, and I used whole canned tomatoes, blending everything together with a hand mixer after it’s simmered for awhile. I never would have guessed those ingredients were in there but it makes the sauce so hearty and gives it a depth that takes it to the next level!

  2. Rebecca {Foodie with Family}

    My favourite pasta sauce is probably Carbonara… not really a sauce as much as a coating, but this vodka sauce looks great!

    • stephaniemanley

      5 stars
      I think I am with you on loving Carbonara sauce. I love these easy pasta sauces. It makes dinner happen quickly.

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