Skip the restaurant and make the best penne alla vodka with a key ingredient that makes all the difference. Perfect for fans of authentic Italian cuisine!

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Penne Alla Vodka! Skip the restaurant and make the best penne alla vodka with a key ingredient that makes all the difference. Perfect for fans of authentic Italian cuisine! |

About Penne alla Vodka

Today I’m bringing you one of my all-time favorite dishes:

The BEST penne alla vodka recipe I’ve ever made.

Yes, I did say the BEST – or at least, in my humble opinion, it totally is.

A little backstory: an old friend of mine and I had a favorite authentic Italian restaurant, and it was heavenly – great food, great environment, great employees. We visited this place so often they began gifting us free shots of limoncello before we left, which was the perfect ending to my favorite meal: penne alla vodka.

Then, the management changed. Everything changed.

The food quality dropped. The kind and considerate waitstaff was replaced with less likable staff. The entire environment shifted, and before long an old friend of mine refused to eat there. I feared I would never get to taste my precious pasta alla vodka again.

So, I resolved to learn to make it myself – and that’s exactly what I did. And, you guys, the results were phenomenal. You must try this at home.

What is penne alla vodka?

Penne alla pasta is a fantastic and authentic Italian cuisine that I love!. Like its name suggests, this is a pasta dish made with vodka and penne pasta, traditionally. Normally, it is prepared using heavy cream, crushed tomatoes, onions, and, sometimes meat like sausage or ground beef. This is a meatless recipe.

The secret to making a proper penne alla vodka is italian tomatoes.

Do not negotiate. This recipe is fine with canned ingredients – and you have to make sure you get Italian tomatoes.

Can penne alla vodka be made in advance?

Yes, it totally can!

How to Make Pasta in Advance:

  • Cook per package instructions, then let cool on the counter until cool enough to touch.
  • Drizzle olive oil (one tablespoon of oil for every eight ounces of pasta ) over the pasta and toss to coat. This prevents pasta from sticking.
  • Place your pasta into airtight containers and store it in the refrigerator.

This precooked pasta is only good for three to four days, so make sure to use it within that time. To reheat the pasta, drop the noodles into a pot of boiling water for one or two minutes.

To Make the Vodka Sauce in Advance:

  • Prepare the sauce as normal per recipe instructions, then let it cool on the counter for a bit.
  • Place the sauce in a sealed container and into the refrigerator.

Pasta sauce will keep for seven days in the refrigerator, as long as it is stored securely. To reheat, just put the vodka sauce back in a pot on a low to medium temperature and heat until the desired temperature is achieved.

How to make homemade vodka sauce with pasta.

How long is pasta and vodka sauce good for?

Once packed and stored in a sealed, airtight container, this dish should remain good in the refrigerator for three to four days.

Can homemade vodka sauce and pasta be frozen?

Yes, you can totally freeze this dish! But please note, the following instructions are for freezing the two components (the sauce and the noodles) separately.

How to Freeze Cooked Pasta:

  • Let pasta cool.
  • Drizzle olive oil (one tablespoon of oil for every eight ounces of pasta) over the pasta and toss to coat. This prevents pasta from sticking.
  • Transfer pasta to airtight containers or freezer bags. Make sure the container is sealed and secure.
  • Store up to two weeks.

How to Reheat Frozen Cooked Pasta:

  • Defrost frozen pasta in a colander in the sink by running cool water over it.
  • Place into boiling water for one or two minutes. You don’t want to overcook the pasta.
  • You can also place the pasta straight into a simmering sauce to have it properly heated. This would happen after the defrosting in the sink, though.

How to Freeze alla Vodka Sauce:

  • Prepare per recipe instructions, then let cool to room temperature.
  • Transfer to airtight containers or freezer bags.
  • Place in freezer.
  • Store up to six months.

Is there any alcohol content in this pasta and vodka sauce recipe?

The short answer to this question is that, yes, there is alcohol. The “vodka” in vodka sauce is true to form.

In fact, any dish made with alcohol can retain up to 85% alcohol content, depending on multiple factors such as the method of cooking, how much heat is used, and how long the food is left out, etc. Most people do not realize it would take up to three hours of cooking time to cook all of the alcohol out of a dish.

So, how much vodka is in vodka sauce?

This particular recipe uses about 1/4 cup of vodka and is simmered for 20 minutes. Once it is cooked, about 40% of the alcohol content will be burned off.

Do I have to use vodka?

If your goal is to make a vodka sauce, then yes, you will need to use some type of vodka. There isn’t an alcohol-free substitute.

Even if you’re not a fan of vodka, it would be worth trying it in a sauce like this. Vodka has a peppery and herbal taste that helps the sauce become super creamy and enhances the flavor of the tomato. You could try to substitute the vodka with other alcohols and wines, but be aware that they will give their own unique taste to the meal. You may end up with a completely different dish than you expected.

Notes & tips for this penne vodka recipe

  • You’ll need a trusty food processor for this penne vodka recipe. I bought the Ninja Blender System almost 10 years ago and it hasn’t failed me yet!
  • You do not have to use penne pasta. Other pastas – such as gnochhi, ravioli, and rigatoni – can be used in its place.
  • If you are using penne pasta, be aware that it is usually served al dente, which just means chewy. Cook for about 14 minutes in boiling water, making sure to stir every so often to prevent them from clumping together.
  • To get the “true” taste of vodka sauce, you’ll need to use  italian tomatoes. Trust me, I made the mistake of thinking that the type of tomato didn’t matter and I ruined our dinner because of it.

How to make penne alla vodka

This next part is only a photo tutorial of the recipe steps. If you’re looking for the full recipe measurements and instructions, scroll down to Recipe Details.

Step 1 – Cook pasta per package directions, then drain and set aside.

Step 2 – Add the Italian tomatoes to a food processor (or use a medium bowl and an immersion blender) and blend the tomatoes until nice and smooth. Set the tomatoes aside for now.

Step 3 – In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and cook the garlic until golden and fragrant.

Step 4 – Add the blended tomatoes, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper to the skillet, then stir, allowing the sauce to simmer for a few minutes. Pour in the vodka, then stir and let simmer.

Step 5 – Add butter, heavy whipping cream, and parmesan cheese to the skillet, then stir until cheese has melted.

Step 6 – Fold the cooked pasta in with the vodka sauce and garnish with more parmesan and parsley.

Step 7 – Serve and enjoy!

This post was originally published on January 4th, 2016. It was updated with new content on May 29th, 2019.

Recipe Details

Penne Alla Vodka! Skip the restaurant and make the best penne alla vodka with a key ingredient that makes all the difference. Perfect for fans of authentic Italian cuisine! |
3.89 from 95 votes

Penne alla Vodka

5 minutes prep + 25 minutes cook
858 kcal
Yields: 4 servings
Skip the restaurant and make the best penne alla vodka with a key ingredient that makes all the difference. Perfect for fans of authentic Italian cuisine!



  • Prepare penne per package instructions. Drain pasta and set aside.
  • While pasta cookes, add Italian tomatoes (and their liquid) to a food processor and pulse until sauce is smooth. Set aside.
  • Add extra-virgin olive oil to a skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add garlic to skillet and cook until garlic is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.
  • Slowly pour tomato sauce into skillet, stirring to incorporate with the oil. Add red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Let sauce simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add vodka to tomato sauce and stir. Reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for about 10 minutes.
  • Add butter to sauce and stir until melted.
  • Pour in heavy cream and parmesan cheese, stirring sauce well.
  • Fold in cooked penne pasta. If desired, continue to cook pasta for another 5 minutes so sauce clings to pasta.
  • Serve pasta immediately with extra parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley as garnish.


Recipe lightly adapted from Epicurious.


Calories: 858kcal | Carbohydrates: 96g | Protein: 25g | Fat: 37g | Saturated Fat: 16g | Cholesterol: 72mg | Sodium: 333mg | Potassium: 897mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 3080IU | Vitamin C: 37.1mg | Calcium: 282mg | Iron: 2.5mg

I do my best to provide nutrition information, but please keep in mind that I’m not a certified nutritionist. Any nutritional information discussed or disclosed in this post should only be seen as my best amateur estimates of the correct values.

Author: Chrisy

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Recipe Rating


    • Rose

    Does really have to have vodka in it?

    • Nathaly Estime

    I am planning on making this for my son’s bday party. I will take your suggestion of storing both things separately so I mixed them right before serving, with that being said. Would you happen to know if i can add prosciutto to the sauce? Do you have any suggestions of what I could serve this with?

    Thank you,

    • Evelyn Solis

    Can I substitute half-and-half for the heavy cream ?

    • Crystal
    • 5 stars

    Thanks for the recipe. It was delicious! Just what I wanted.

    • Liz

    Italian tomatoes (and their liquid)? Does this mean canned tomatoes or fresh? What exactly are Italian tomatoes?

      • Chrisy

      Hey Liz! This recipe refers to the canned Italian tomatoes (which is why the recipe states to use the tomatos + liquid in the can). You can see an example of them here:

    • Jul

    Do you have any experience making this the day before and heating it up in the oven just before serving? Also have you every doubled or tripled the recipe? Thank you. Looks delish. Can’t wait to try it.

      • Chrisy

      Hey Jul! I know I’ve heated up the leftovers, and they were good – but they were still leftovers. That being said, the way I had it the pasta and sauce were already mixed. I think if you could store it separately and then mix the pasta and sauce before serving it might be better. Also, I’ve only ever made this recipe to the serving listed.

    • Jul

    Hello…..just wondering if this could be made up the day before and then reheated and served?
    Thank you….your recipe looks delish.

    • Natalie

    I’m going to make this today for my mom for Mother’s Day! It’s her favorite dish. Can I make the sauce in a crockpot? Thanks!

    • Lisa
    • 5 stars

    Made it tonight! Be-yootiful! Easy. Tasty. Love it! Thanks Chrisy!

    • JP
    • 5 stars

    Amazing flavors… followed to the tee. It was fantastic. Thank you!

    • Thanks for writing in, JP! I’m so glad you liked it πŸ˜€

    • Sara Field

    While reading it m thinking “If I have all the ingredients in my kitchen ?”. The recipe is absolutely amazing.

    • RJ

    Thank you Chrisy for sharing this recipe with the public! I have owned 2 Italian restaurant’s in my life. This recipe is spot on! It’s just amazing to me that there are so many pre made sauces in grocery stores these days. most all of them have a list of seasonings and who knows what kind of tomato’s. The essence of Italian food is simple fresh ingredients. just a quick note. There many good Italian plum tomato’s out their. But you are correct in using San Marzano brand. They are the best. But people read the can good. Some brands will say San Marzano style tomato’s. Make sure you read; Imported from Italy! Crisy, very good job! Only one thing I did different was to garnish with fresh basil instead of parsley. Just a personal preference. Thanks again!

    • Hey RJ! Thanks for writing in πŸ™‚ I’ll have to try it with basil next time, AND keep an eye out for the “imported from Italy” marker πŸ˜€ Great tips!

    • Lauren Gaskill | Making Life Sweet

    Gorgeous dish dear! I love vodka sauce!

    • nicole @ I am a Honey Bee

    this looks hands down amazing. I want a big, big bowl!

    • Stephanie

    This looks SO good! Love the photos too!

    • Matt @ Plating Pixels

    I love cooking at home but good restaurant meals too. This is like the best of both worlds! Looks pretty simple too.

    • Lise from Mom Loves Baking

    Love it! And it’s my favorite thing to order at an Italian restaurant.

    • Perfect! If you make it, I hope it measures up to what you’re used to ordering πŸ˜€

    • Christie

    Amazing photos…This is a must make!

    • Amber

    My mouth is watering…and now I want pasta for lunch! Thanks for sharing this recipe, I love that it’s a homemade sauce. We will definitely be adding this to our recipe rotation.

    • kristen

    I was literally looking for a delicious vodka penne recipe this weekend!! This one looks so delicious! I’m pinning this for later!

    • Good timing then! πŸ˜€ Hopefully this recipe has the flavor you were hunting for.

        • Brent

        This is an average recipe to me but decided to try after reading the promising article. I followed it exactly and honestly I think it could be better to claim it’s the best. I feel like you can get more tomato flavor by roasting your tomatoes in your pan with your onion mixture before purreeing. Also, oregano or basil would work better than parsley which is too mild for the rich tomato….and more vodka. πŸ™‚